IDAHO FALLS — Bonneville Joint School District trustees unanimously approved putting a $34.5 million bond on the May ballot — but not before overcoming some hiccups.
At the regular March 8 board meeting, trustees first issued a split 3-2 vote approving the ballot measure, with Trustees Randy Smith and Greg Calder opposing.
Seven words — about how to use a small chunk of the potential funds — drove the initial rift.
After their “nay” votes, Smith and Calder clarified that they support the bond’s major intended projects — a new, $32 million elementary school and $2.5 million for roofing needs — but were deterred by a phrase that would allow some of the $2.5 million to potentially be used for new property.
While Smith and Calder said they personally agree with the need to have funds available to buy more property, they worried that the added phrase could provide fuel for naysayers to vote against the bond.
Read the ballot language for the bond here.
“If you give people traction to fight this, then we’re back to square one,” Smith said. “Our priority is to get elementary school kids out of 52 portable rooms — that’s our number one priority.”
The small phrase could muddy the waters and confuse voters, Smith said.
“Eighty percent of people who vote aren’t well-informed on what we know, and so it’s by emotion and hearsay and it doesn’t take much to sink the ship,” Smith said.
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.
Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme added in the property acquisition phrase at the last minute because he expected the Idaho Public Charter Commission to close down the nearby Monticello Montessori Charter School in a vote the next day. He wanted the district to be in a position to purchase the school’s facilities if so. (Since that time, the Commission voted to conditionally approve the charter’s contract for another five years.)
“As you see more and more farmland turning into homes and development, if we don’t have property, we’re going to lose the opportunity,” Woolstenhulme said. “I truly believe that.”
Trustee Carissa Coats said she supported the property-buying phrase.
“It’s never a bad idea to have property when we have a growing district, and it’s never a bad idea to ask for money for roofs when we have an aging district,” she said.
Paul Jenkins, the vice chairman of the board, said he liked the flexibility the phrase would provide the district in terms of how to use the $2.5 million.
The board at first voted 3-2 to approve the bond resolution, with the divisive phrase in place.
Afterward, Smith expressed regret at the voting results — a split decision wouldn’t accurately reflect the board’s strong overall support of the bond, aside from the small phrase, he said.
“I don’t want the press to say it was a split decision.”
Ultimately, the board voted to cut the pesky seven words from the resolution. The board then voted unanimously to support the amended resolution — which makes it clear that $32 million of any bond funds would go toward a new elementary school and the remaining $2.5 million could only be used for roofing needs.
The board’s discussion reflects how tenuous bond support can be — even a few words can be too great a risk for districts to take. And a united board seems to be a must, as well.
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