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Explosive growth continues to tax West Ada schools. These taxes would help pay for it.

Mountain View High School opened at capacity in 2003, with 1,801 students, and has had more than 2,200 students since then. It has 2,220 students this year. West Ada is asking for a $95 million bond (as well as a $14 million levy) in the March 13 election, which includes money for a new high school to ease overcrowding.
Mountain View High School opened at capacity in 2003, with 1,801 students, and has had more than 2,200 students since then. It has 2,220 students this year. West Ada is asking for a $95 million bond (as well as a $14 million levy) in the March 13 election, which includes money for a new high school to ease overcrowding. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Eric Exline has been working for the West Ada School District for 20 years, and even he isn’t exactly sure how many times school boundaries have changed.

It’s at least seven.

And if voters approve a $95 million bond on March 13, the longtime school district spokesman – along with a group of parents and other volunteers – will go through that controversial process again.

But with the Gem State’s supermajority threshold for bonds – 66-and-two-thirds percent – that’s a big if. The bond, which would pay for a new high school and elementary school, among other projects, isn’t the only thing on the ballot for West Ada voters. The district is also asking voters to renew a $14 million supplemental levy, which would allow the district to hire back some teachers it lost in the 2008 recession.

“That’s a really high bar,” Exline said. “People really need to be convinced you need new schools. It’s hard to convince people of that just by saying, look, this growth is coming.”

Enrollment numbers provided by the district show exploding student growth. Four of the district’s five high schools are bursting at the seams, including Mountain View, which is 428 students over capacity, and Rocky Mountain, which is 593 over.

Four of West Ada School District's five high schools are over capacity. The district is asking voters to approve a $95 million bond March 13 to build a $60 million high school near Ustick Road to ease overcrowding, among other facilities projects.

And, according to Exline, there are no signs of it slowing down. The construction of almost 14,600 residential homes proposed within the boundaries of the district could mean more than 11,600 new students.

“I’ve actually tracked that number for a long time – that’s the highest I’ve ever seen it,” Exline said. “Before the recession I’ve seen it often at 13-14 thousand, but I’ve never seen it over 14,000.”

If trends continue, West Ada will exceed 50,000 students in the next 10 years, making it one of the 100 largest districts in the nation, Exline said.

Here’s a breakdown of the history of requests for funding from West Ada, and what is included in the $95 million bond and $14 million levy.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

1993. 1996. 1998. 2000. 2002. 2005. Enter the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. 2015.

These are the years in the district’s recent history of voter-approved bonds, ranging from a low of a $20.9 million in May 1996 to high of $139.8 million in September 2005.

“In the story of West Ada, that’s never the end of the story, because we’re going to keep growing,” Exline said.

Exline said the district is grateful for voter support of the measures in the past and hopes residents continue to understand the strain new growth puts on the district’s schools and resources.

Unlike cities and other entities such as highway districts, school districts can’t impose impact fees, which help offset the cost of new development. The only way to pay for new school facilities is through bonds.

Financial strain is something Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd also wants changed. The state is constitutionally mandated to adequately fund school systems, she wrote, and it isn’t.

“Property taxes shouldn’t have to fill the gaps,” she wrote. “Therefore, I will continue to advocate with our state leaders to step up their ‘mandated’ funding to the levels needed.”

The West Ada School district is proposing a $95 million bond and a $14 million school levy for the March 13 ballot. The bond, which would help the district build new schools and remodel old ones, requires a super majority of 66.6 percent to pass.

WHAT WILL MY MONEY PAY FOR?

The $95 million bond would provide money for an array of construction projects and land acquisitions in the district, including:

▪  $60 million for a new high school near Ustick and McDermott roads.

▪  $16 million for a new elementary school on donated land near the east side of Blackcat Road between Chinden Boulevard and McMillan Road.

▪  $8 million for 20 new classrooms at Mountain View High and the expansion of the school’s cafeteria.

▪ $7 million for 10 new classrooms and other improvements at Star Elementary.

▪ $3 million to buy land for future school sites.

▪  $1 million for four new classrooms and other improvements at Mary McPherson Elementary.

WHAT ABOUT THE SUPPLEMENTAL LEVY?

The $14 million levy, which has been renewed by voters three times (March 2012, March 2014 and November 2015), needs a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote to pass. The funding would help the district continue to bring back programs and replenish staffing lost during the recession, Exline said.

In the depths of the recession, West Ada lost 123 teaching and staff positions and bit by bit has been able to hire those positions back.

“We’ve mostly been getting our teacher ratio back to zero,” Exline said. “We’re at 42 below now. So over the last four years we went from 123 to 42, so we’re making progress.”

IS THIS GOING TO COST ME MORE?

It’s not likely.

Under the current levy rate, taxpayers in the West Ada district pay $377 per $100,000 of taxable property value. If your home is worth $200,000, you pay approximately $754.

If both measures pass, that levy rate will stay the same, Exline said. That’s because of a 10.2 percent increase — $1.7 billion — in the total taxable property value that falls within the school district.

If the $95 million bond fails but the levy passes, the levy rate will remain the same because the district will maximize the number of bond payments it is allowed to make. That would mean the district would be able to pay off previous debt and interest faster.

Exline cautioned that while the levy rate may remain the same if both measures are successful, some property owners may see increases in their property taxes if the value of their property goes up.

WILL MY KIDS HAVE TO CHANGE SCHOOLS?

If the bond measure passes, Exline said a committee would be formed in fall 2018 to start looking at the attendance boundaries affected by the new high school and elementary schools.

Parents often ask why the district doesn’t announce proposed boundary lines before the election to give a better understanding of where their students will end up if a new high school is built.

“One, (the process is) a lot of effort if you don’t know if the bond is going to pass,” Exline said. “But two, I’ve done them two years out, but the further out you get, the sketchier the numbers get for you in terms of where kids are in specific geographic areas.”

Sometimes the boundary review committees drill down to how many kids are in a square mile or less, Exline said, and those numbers tend to shift even within a year.

“The hope for the new high school is that we can relieve the overcrowding at Rocky Mountain,” Exline said, “and we can relieve the overcrowding at Eagle, which is a couple hundred (students) over now, but it’s starting to grow by 100 kids a year.”

Exline said district officials have considered adding a new high school closer to the south end of the district — near new subdivisions that sure to crop up by the Interstate 84 interchange near Micron — but the immediate demand isn’t as great.

WHAT WOULD THE NEW HIGH SCHOOL LOOK LIKE?

If the bond passes, Exline said the design of the $60 million high school would be based on already-built schools like Ridgevue High in Nampa to expedite the construction of the school.

“We will actually redo the entryway and the look,” Exline said. “I would imagine the color scheme … will change to give it its own West Ada uniqueness. But the floor plan will be very similar.”

The school would be on the north side of Ustick Road, just west of McDermott Road and open in fall 2020.

WHAT ABOUT CHANGES AT THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LEVEL?

The bond would pay for a $16 million elementary school that would be built using the district’s prototype elementary school design. At 65,000 square feet, it would have a capacity of 650 students and ease overcrowding issues at Hunter Elementary and growth at Ponderosa Elementary.

The measure would remodel Star Elementary and provide much-needed parking spaces for teachers and staff. It would replace the school’s gymnasium and cafeteria, which are housed in a building constructed in 1911. It would also add 10 classrooms.

Mary McPherson Elementary, one of the district’s original schools, would get a classroom addition that would eliminate four portable classrooms. It would also expand a tight parking lot.

IS WEST ADA THE ONLY SCHOOL DISTRICT WITH A MEASURE ON THE BALLOT?

No. According to Idaho Education News, Idaho voters are being asked to approve $410 million in bonds and levies on March 13. That includes $191.7 million in bonds, $140.6 in supplemental levies and $77.7 million in plant facilities levies.

Along with the small sliver of the West Ada School District boundaries that fall within Canyon County, four other school districts in Canyon County are asking voters to pass these measures:

▪  The Caldwell School District is running a supplemental levy for $2.5 million per year for two years. The levy would help the district maintain music, physical education and career technical education programs, as well as other extra curricular opportunities.

▪  The Middleton School District is running a bond for $25 million. The bond would fund the design and construction of a fourth elementary school, as well as provide money to purchase land for a future middle school site and an additional elementary school.

▪  The Parma School District is running a bond for $5 million. The bond will be used to construct a new agricultural education building, expand the high school band room, replace unusable middle school tennis courts, replace stadium bleachers, repair the track, upgrade stadium lighting and upgrade security systems throughout the district, according to the district.

▪  The Wilder School District is running a bond for $5 million to upgrade lunchroom and kitchen facilities, as well as to construct new agriculture education classrooms and a shop.

WHERE AND WHEN DO I VOTE?

Polling locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. To determine whether you’re registered to vote or to find your polling place, go to idahovotes.gov.

Idaho allows same-day voter registration for residents at polling places on Election Day. To register, you must be a citizen of the United States, have resided in Idaho and the voting district for 30 days before the election, be at least 18 years old and not have been convicted of a felony.

Christina Lords: 208-377-6435, @ChristinaLords

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