State Board approves community college district in Bonneville County

BOISE — The State Board of Education has given the official nod to transform Eastern Idaho Technical College into East Idaho’s first community college.

Five State Board members voted unanimously via conference call Friday to establish Bonneville County as an official community college district — a preliminary step toward getting a measure to transform EITC into a community college on Bonneville County ballots this Spring.

State Board president Emma Atchley voiced her “enthusiastic” support for the decision, pegging it a step toward helping the state reach its lofty 60 percent college-completion goal.

“The board is very supportive of this opportunity for more East Idaho students to receive an excellent higher education,” Atchley said.

Meanwhile, a hodgepodge of state and local supporters, including Gov. Butch Otter, have rallied behind the college-credit benefits tied to the measure. They say a community college in East Idaho would increase the number of students enrolled in college courses while still in high school — at a fraction of what it would cost them in college.

But the project comes with a price tag. The state is offering $5 million in startup costs to help bare the brunt of the measure, but average homeowners in Bonneville County would still see an annual increase of $13.37 in property taxes, or a little over a dollar a month.

Supporters say the tax hike is a meager trade-off for a city, Idaho Falls, long ready for a community college. They point to the existing EITC campus, already equipped to handle an influx of students, and to Bonneville County’s swelling tax base of nearly $6 billion as a means of minimizing the cost for taxpayers.

Bonneville County Commissioner Dave Radford, who has openly thrown his support behind the measure, gave every indication Friday that the issue will show up on ballots this Spring.

“This is democracy in action,” he said. “I see no indication why this won’t be on ballots in May.”

Board members Atchley, David Hill, Don Soltman, Debbie Critchfield, and schools chief Sherri Ybarra each supported the resolution.

A bond to transform EITC into a community college must receive two-thirds, 66.6 percent, voter support in order to pass.