Special education dominates Bonneville bond discussions

IDAHO FALLS — Accommodating hundreds of special education students has emerged as a focal point in the Bonneville School District’s pursuit to float a school bond issue from anywhere between $16 million and $65 million.

Trustees are now mulling two major options:

  • A $16.7 million, 650-student elementary school, which would provide up to three additional classrooms to help absorb Bonneville’s growing K-6 special education enrollment.
  • A $24.9 million, 850-student elementary school, equipped with 15 additional classrooms to serve as a districtwide hub for some 200 K-6 special education students.

Parental concerns over accommodating a swelling special education population in the midst of the district’s rapid population growth have accompanied talk of a bond issue since March.

Bonneville assistant superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said on top of freeing up space in the district’s 15 elementary schools, either option would allow students to continue receiving special services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“None of that will change,” he said.

Yet Woolstenhulme believes the more expensive alternative to build a special education hub is better for two reasons:

  1. It would “improve collaboration” between teachers and provide a centralized location for health professionals now forced to bounce between several schools.
  2. It would free up more class space at more schools, including Mountain Valley, Summit Hills and Discovery elementary schools, which together house a large proportion of the district’s current K-6 special education enrollment.

Though current trustees have yet to approve any official plan tied to absorbing the district’s dizzying population growth via a bond issue, they have voted to enter negotiations with NBW Architects of Idaho Falls over design plans for a new middle school priced at up to $37 million.

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Earlier this week, Headwaters Construction, the Idaho Falls-based general contractor overseeing the project, provided cost estimates for the new middle school, along with both current elementary school options. Taken together, these projections add up to between $55 million and $65 million, depending on which elementary option trustees choose.

But it’s hard to say how much the district could ask voters to approve, and when. The figures are still estimates, Woolstenhulme said, adding that trustees could put a bond issue for both projects on the ballot as early as March 2018, or they could split the measure in two, asking voters to approve a bond issue for one school first, and another at a later date.

“That’s all still unclear at this point,” Woolstenhulme said.

Trustees have until Jan. 23 to decide whether to put any bond issue on the March 2018 ballot.

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