Teton bond issue sparks a debate

The Teton School District is asking the community to pass a $19 million bond for new schools, and some parents want more answers.

Parent Cindy Riegel started the group Teton Valley Parents Lobbying for Educational Advancement in September, with about 10 other parents. Teton Valley PLEA has had two open meetings, and 30 to 40 parents and patrons have attended, Riegel said.

Monte Woolstenhulme
Monte Woolstenhulme

The group hopes to gather better information about Teton County public schools. (Information about Teton schools can be found at IdahoEdTrends.org).

“We hope to publish a fact sheet in order to inform and inspire school improvement and innovation in our community,” said Riegel, a Democrat running for a seat on the Teton County Commission in November. “Our goal is to create more transparency and awareness. We also want to inspire our district to use real data in setting goals during their strategic planning process.”

Teton superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme said he appreciates the parental involvement.

“We’re a very engaged community but we’re always a very divided community — for or against any decision — but that’s good because it shows people are active and participating in the process,” he said. “We’re hopeful and positive about the bond, but we have a lot of work to do.”

CindyRiegel
Teton parent Cindy Riegel 

The board decided on an Aug. 26 bond election during a June 30 meeting, which gives the administration only a few weeks to get information out to voters. The community has supported supplemental levies every two years since 1997, and the current levy would be up for renewal in March. But a bond issue requires two-thirds voter support.

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“Some people say we’re insane and it will never pass, and others feel we should ask for $25 million or higher to fund more and bigger buildings,” Woolstenhulme said.

The bond would fund two new elementary school buildings and upgrades to other buildings. New developments are fueling growth, and the area provides affordable housing  for commuters who work in Jackson, Wyo. — a 45-minute drive or public bus ride to the east.

“We also have a ski resort and eight golf courses so higher-end development is happening,” Woolstenhulme said. “We are preparing for growth.”

Riegel’s group wants to be more involved in district decisionmaking, and she said more data would help. For example, school leaders have decided to use the bond for two K-3 elementary schools, but Riegel questions if the district would be better served by one K-6 school.

“We want a better sense of what’s happening,” said Riegel, who remains active in public school politics, but enrolls her three young children in a private school. “We can offer new energy and new ideas, expose how decisions are being made.”

Riegel hasn’t decided if she’ll support the bond. She’s waiting for more information so she can make a “data-driven” decision.

“It’s important that educating children takes the entire community — businesses,  elected officials and commissioners should all work together to do what’s best for the children,” said Riegel. “There is a huge economic benefit for schools that have a great reputation and our schools do not and that’s not helping our economy.”

Levies have helped the Teton district through the recession.

“We’re lucky because we’ve made very few deep cuts compared to most districts because of support from our community,” Woolstenhulme said.

Administrators and trustees also are creating a strategic plan. A final public review of the strategic plan is scheduled for the Aug. 11 school board meeting.

“So far, the strategic plan is basic and minimal and doesn’t have measurable goals, an implementation process and who is responsible,” Riegel said. “We’d like to get involved and help.”