West Ada trustees agree to put a record-breaking, $500 million levy on the ballot

West Ada School District trustees unanimously approved on Monday night the largest education funding ask to make it on a ballot in Idaho history — a 10-year, $500 million plant facilities levy. 

If passed during the May election, the levy would pay for two new elementary schools, a new CTE center, and maintenance, repairs, renovations, and expansions throughout the district.

Seven community members, including parents, a local employer, and a teacher spoke in favor of the levy at the regular board meeting.

Aaron Ricks, the operations manager at Western Trailers, shared his support for the new CTE center, especially the welding program it would house. Over the years, his company has hired more than 40 students, he said. The CTE program helps students who may not excel in traditional classroom subjects find their niche.

“They have the opportunity to get done with high school, and if they don’t choose to go out for further education, to be able to be successful and contribute,” Ricks said. “This program supports us as a company and it supports our community as well as your students.”

To view a sample of the ballot language for the West Ada plant facilities levy, go here. For a full list of how West Ada plans to use the funds (if the levy passes), go to slides 23-27 of this presentation. 

Three parents involved in Parent-Teacher Organizations at their respective schools discussed the need to address population growth and repair and upgrade the district’s older schools, which they said had issues ranging from walls so thin students can hear through them to parking lots riddled with potholes, cracks, and faded paint.

After hearing from patrons, school district officials said they were committed to addressing current and future overcrowding and population growth with the levy funds. Superintendent Derek Bub also said the levy, if approved, would be the last of its kind for a while: “We are committed to avoiding future facility-related plant facility levies and bonds for the next ten years.”

Trustee Angie Redford asked district officials why community members who don’t have kids or grandkids in the district should care about or support the levy.

“Schools are a foundation of a good community,” Bub said. “Investing in our kids and our community is one of the best investments we can make.”

A quality education is also associated with a lower crime rate and increased literacy, he said.

Later in the meeting, Redford said she was in favor of the levy, and especially the new CTE center it would fund.

“In some cases (CTE) programs break the cycle of generational poverty, and you cannot put a price tag on that. You just can’t,” she said. “So CTE programs can completely change the trajectory of students’ lives and I think about the ripple effect that has when we are talking about thousands of students. That’s powerful.”

She pointed out that the community would benefit as well, whether from having students build tiny homes for veterans, repair trucks used for food transport, or fill much-needed LPN and CNA positions.

Board Chair Lori Frasure also expressed her support for the measure.

“I’ve toured schools throughout the district and have seen that some of our buildings need renovations or upgrades firsthand,” she said. “I’m grateful for the district’s diligence in addressing these needs. Even more so, I’m excited that we’re doing our best to support our kids and put them in the best learning environments possible.”

In a press release, Bub touted the levy as an opportunity for the community to support West Ada students.

“If we are all in for our kids, there’s no doubt that there will be a return on investment, whether it’s in the form of high academic achievement, a stronger workforce, or graduates that stay in the community they grew up in and pay it forward,” he said.

The decision to put the plant facilities levy on the ballot marks a somewhat unorthodox turn away from using bonds to fund new school construction. 

Historically, plant facilities levies have been used for repairs, maintenance, or upgrades — not major new construction. But in Idaho, which has one of the nation’s most stringent required pass rates for bonds (a two-thirds supermajority), bonds have about a 50% chance of passing. 

With its Monday night decision, the West Ada school board is trailblazing a relatively new path that avoids the required supermajority; its plant facilities levy will only require 55% voter approval. 

But it may not be alone — Idaho Falls School District is considering running its own 10-year, $32.5 million plant facilities levy to fund a new elementary school. Last year, Idaho Falls put a record-breaking $250 million bond on the ballot, and it failed with 58% support.  

 

Carly Flandro

About Carly Flandro

Reporter Carly Flandro works in EdNews’ East Idaho bureau. A former high school English teacher, she writes about teaching, learning, diversity, and equity. You can follow Flandro on Twitter @idahoedcarly and send her news tips at [email protected]

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