Close and unlikely election wins add to $116 million for schools

Updated at 4:12 p.m. with a comment from Joe Kren, interim superintendent at West Bonner School District. 

The majority of education measures passed Tuesday, including some close and unlikely victories. 

Here’s a look at the results, by the numbers:

  • Voters approved 35 of 45 school funding measures.
  • That adds up to about $116 million approved out of $209 million in asks — or $176 million if Pocatello/Chubbuck School District’s $33 million bond ask, which trustees were no longer seeking, is discounted.
  • 2 of 6 bonds passed 
  • 2 of 3 plant facilities levies passed 
  • 36 of 41 supplemental levies passed 
  • 1 COSSA levy passed
  • 7 elections were won with 70% support or greater (In Salmon; Blaine County; Cambridge; Culdesac; Butte County; Cottonwood)
  • At least 3 elections won by less than a handful of votes (Ririe’s bond, Wilder’s COSSA levy and in Bruneau-Grandview the levy passed by 1 vote)
  • At least three school election wins came after a string of previous election losses

Here’s a closer look at some of the most compelling outcomes: 

Salmon, with a history of election failures, clinched a win last night 

In Salmon, volunteer community members spent months working to get a $20 million bond passed so the district could replace an elementary school riddled with issues that included a cracked foundation, collapsing sewer lines, and outdoor food storage. 

They faced big odds: The district’s previous 12 attempts to pass a bond failed. 

But the measure sailed through with an overwhelming support rate of 72%, easily surpassing the two-thirds majority needed. 

Keep an eye on in coming days for a more in-depth look at Salmon’s win. 

The Salmon Schools Needs Assessment Committee, which organized the bond effort, posted a message of thanks on social media Wednesday.

Two North Idaho schools will stay open after Mountain View’s levy passes

Mountain View leaders were faced with potentially shuttering two schools, Clearwater Jr./Sr. High and Elk City School, due to a budget deficit. The last hope for keeping them open was passing a $5.872 million levy. It was a long shot, considering the district’s past four levy asks failed.

But Tuesday, voters approved the measure — barely — with 52% support. It came down to a difference of 186 votes. 

Superintendent Kim Spacek brought donuts to staff at Clearwater Jr./Sr. High first thing Wednesday morning to celebrate with educators before the first bell rang. 

“They were excited,” he said. “It’s a big victory, really, for the communities and the kids.”

He attributes this year’s election win to a few factors:

  • A new comptroller who was very knowledgeable about the budget
  • A community group formed to support the district
  • Greater awareness of the election; more signs about the election throughout the district’s communities

Beyond keeping two schools open, the levy will help fund staffing, operating expenses, curriculum, technology, all-day kindergarten, libraries, busing, custodial supplies, and more. 

Spacek was pleased the levy passed, but said the slim margin of victory indicates a continued need to bolster the relationship between the district and the community. This was Spacek’s first school year as superintendent, but he will step down this summer. 

Mountain View School District leaders have recently looked into breaking into two districts, a conversation that was tabled to focus on the levy election. Trustees may start slowly picking that conversation up again, Spacek said, but stressed that the discussion is in its infancy. 

A few votes made the difference for Ririe’s bond

On the other end of the state just outside of Idaho Falls, Ririe School District Superintendent Jeff Gee was celebrating a hair’s breadth bond win. The district’s five-year, $1.5 million bond passed with 67% support, barely over the 66 and two-thirds support needed to win. If a few less people (less than a handful) hadn’t supported it, it wouldn’t have passed.

“Every vote counted this time around, absolutely,” Gee said. 

The bond win comes after three consecutive previous losses. Gee chalks up this year’s win to increased communication and information efforts, including four community meetings. And this year, there was no organized opposition to the election, like in past years. 

“So that helps, if people aren’t actively working against you,” he said. 

The bond will help pay for a number of maintenance needs, including new water boilers, roof repairs, and parking lot repairs. 

Gee said the one school’s old steam boiler made classrooms so hot “to the point you can’t stand it.” Teachers would be opening the windows in the winter to cool down their classrooms. But if the furnace gets turned off, there’s a cold spell. 

“Having a system in place where the teacher can control the temperature of the classroom is going to be a huge, huge bonus to our elementary school,” he said. “My feelings are gratitude and thankfulness to the community that got out and supported us.”

Wilder’s levy came down to two votes

Wilder School District had another close victory: its COSSA levy was approved by just two votes, with 210 voting for it and 208 voting against it. The five-year, $2.735 million measure will help fund the district’s share of the Canyon Owyhee School Service Agency, which provides special education and career technical education services. 

EdNews reached out to Wilder Superintendent Jeff Dillon Wednesday morning but had not heard back as of Wednesday afternoon.

West Ada’s supplemental levy win was the night’s biggest-ticket item

West Ada School District was also celebrating a win. Its two-year, $27.7 million supplemental levy passed with 58% support. The dollars will fund 152 teachers and 19 school resource officers. 

“This positive outcome reflects the trust and commitment our voters have in the quality of education we strive to provide,” Superintendent Derek Bub wrote in an email to West Ada families on Wednesday. “Together we have demonstrated the power of community collaboration and the impact of collective effort.”

McCall’s effort to provide staff housing failed

Leaders of McCall-Donnelly School District asked voters to fund a $14 million school bond, which would’ve gone toward housing for district employees. It failed with 58% of voters against the measure. 

But voters did approve a second measure: a $5.67 million supplemental levy was approved with 61% support.

EdNews reached out to the district for comment on next steps Wednesday morning but had not heard back as of Wednesday afternoon. 

Garden Valley and West Bonner: Two different outcomes in two districts facing controversy

Garden Valley’s $800,000 supplemental levy passed with 54% support. The district has recently been in the news for its systemic special education issues and leadership turnover

The outcome was the opposite in a similarly beleaguered district. West Bonner School District’s $4.648 million supplemental levy failed with 54% of voters against the measure. The failure comes after a school year marked by leadership turmoil and budgetary woes

 Joe Kren, West Bonner’s interim superintendent, said district leaders will discuss next steps at a meeting early next week, though a date has not yet been set. 

“There is nothing in the bank, so we have to … come up with money somewhere or cuts need to ensue,” he said. “We’ve got work to do now.”

The levy would’ve paid for facilities upgrades and maintenance, staff salaries and benefits, transportation and busing, extracurricular activities, and more.

Check out our live election night coverage and results for more information.

Idaho EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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