The secret’s out — Idaho is a great place to live

There is a popular Facebook meme of a sticker that reads, “Idaho Sucks” along with the tongue-in-cheek instructions to share with a Californian.

I get the sentiment. As a Montanan, my family, friends, fellow residents and I did not like the idea of so many “outsiders” moving in, buying up property that lined streams and rivers, and wearing cowboy hats or hiking boots for fashion not function. We understood why they wanted to move there; Hollywood had leaked the secret of the Big Sky State’s beauty, isolation, and simple living. Or as The Eagles sang in “The Last Resort”, “you call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

The similarity ends there. The growth in the Treasure Valley mirrors more of another neighboring state, Utah. As a college student in Salt Lake City in the early 80s, even I could begin to feel the urban sprawl. Industry was growing in the city and to the west while developments and neighborhoods grew in the foothills, up in the mountain town of Park City and down to the southern city limits.  I graduated from the University of Utah in 1985 and did not return again until 2009. I did not recognize the place except for the “U” on the mountain.

Now I am blessed to live and work here! As a youth I spent many miles driving through Idaho playing hockey against teams on the east side of the state and later as an adult attending and presenting at educational conferences at Idaho State University. This brings me back to the “Idaho Sucks” meme.  The Facebook campaign/complaint about west coasters moving into Idaho is 20 years too late and now the anti-growth factions are left wondering what can be done to stop it, some of whom are the same folks who vote against school bonds as if this is a political statement not an educational need.

As a school district superintendent I embrace the adage, “the first rule of leadership is to define reality.” Here you go:

  • Idaho is the fastest growing state in the U.S., Boise the fastest growing city.
  • Defeating a bond referendum in a growing community hurts students and strains overcrowded facilities but it doesn’t stop growth. Districts respond to growth (and decline) but we don’t create it or manage it — that’s city and county officials’ responsibilities.
  • Developers will continue to put up homes whether we have the classrooms or not. In Middleton, we’ll see as many as 800 new homes in the next 3-to-4 years. This will add to the already crowded schools.
  • In two elections (March and August) a clear majority, but not a supermajority, voted in favor of bond referendums. Can we please join the other 48 states that do not have this 2/3 vote mandate? (Kentucky is the other state)
  • Overcrowded schools lead to alternative placement or alternative scheduling. Are we ready for an elementary grade level to be housed at the middle school and/or have year round K-5 track schools?
  • Property tax rates for school related levies are going down due to new houses being built and the increase in assessed home values…… even if the bond had passed.

The “Idaho Sucks” meme is a subtle attempt to sway people away from this great and beautiful state, but it’s too late, the secret is out, so let’s be part of the solution in a more proactive manner rather than reacting with a sticker or a poll decision not best for students.

Written by Dr. Josh J. Middleton, superintendent of the Middleton School District.

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