A grass-roots group has surfaced just days before the vote on the Boise School District’s $172.5 million bond, complaining about the high sticker price, the plan to replace some old schools, and the push for replacing and remodeling schools when the district’s own study shows a potential loss of 1,000 students over the next decade.
“We think the school district needs to come back to us with a reasonable plan,” said Rose Pepper, spokeswoman for the group calling itself Boise Citizens for Responsible Education.
The distict’s doors are open for critics to come look at the bond plans, said Superintendent Don Coberly. “We would invite any members of that group to visit any of the schools for which there are projects on the bond,” Coberly said.
Bond opponents say they welcome the opportunity to make that work.
This amount of money is unacceptable.
Rose Pepper, Boise parent and bond opponent
Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide on a construction bond that is part of a $217 million school improvement package for district buildings through 2026. Major projects include replacing six elementary schools built from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, adding an elementary school at Harris Ranch in Southeast Boise, and doing several expansions, renovations and maintenance projects.
Pepper declined to say who else is part of Boise Citizens for Responsible Education because those people don’t feel comfortable naming themselves, she said. Pepper said the group has “hundreds of people” and is going door-to-door, meeting with community residents and using social media to ask voters to give the bond a second look.
Pepper is a stay-at-home mom who moved to Boise from Texas three years ago and has two preschoolers in Boise.
She said she does not know how much money the organization has to carry out a campaign in the week before the vote. Under Idaho law, advocacy groups for or against school bonds are not required to report contributions. Friends of Boise Schools said it expects to spend $100,000 raised from contributions in support of the bond.
District officials say the bond is largely about investing in repairing and replacing old buildings. Half of Boise’s schools are more than 60 years old, said Sue Lovelace, co-chair of Friends of Boise Schools. “This bond isn’t really about growth,” she said. “Our issue is age of buildings.”
There are immediate needs ... for the schools on this list. There are needs that didn’t make this list.
Sue Lovelace, Friends of Boise Schools co-chair
The exception: Southeast Boise is poised for growth, with continuing development at Harris Ranch and the recently approved 2,000-home Syringa Valley development south of Interstate 84.
Syringa Valley could add another 1,400 students to the district’s enrollment in the next several years if it reaches its full projection. The increase in students would wipe away any projected enrollment decline, said Tracy Richter, CEO of DeJong Richter, an Ohio education planning business that did a detailed assessment of buildings for the district. The Syringa Valley numbers were not factored into the district’s study because it had not received preliminary approval and no permits were issued.
Becky Young, a former chair of the district’s now-defunct parent-community advisory committee and a supporter of the $94 million bond to replace several schools in 2006, is also skeptical of the district’s new proposal.
Both Pepper and Young question the need to replace aging schools and want to see repairs instead. The district should look at renovating older elementary schools, Young said.
“I don’t buy you tear things down and start over,” she said.
Neither woman is a hard and fast school bond opponent. Pepper said she recognizes the district might have buildings that need repairs and improvements. And Young, who is not affiliated with Pepper’s group, agrees that the district must address growth in Harris Ranch.
But both see the bond proposal as a district wish list. “Boise schools has put in every want and every desire, and it is irresponsible,” Pepper said.
48 Number of schools in the Boise district in the building and maintenance plan
District officials say the 18-month analysis by DeJong became the basis of a district building and maintenance plan through 2026.
Many of the proposed projects are renovations, such as the 1936 Boise High gym, school officials say. But some buildings have reached a tipping point, said school board President Nancy Gregory.
“Sometimes it is more fiscally responsible to replace than to renovate,” Gregory said.
BOISE SCHOOL DISTRICT BOND
Amount: $172.5 million
Length: 20 years
Expected interest rate: 2.96 percent
Total interest payments: $70,723,500
Tax rate: $70, unchanged from existing rate to pay for bonded debt, in part because the 1996 bond that built Shadow Hills and Trail Wind elementary schools and a supplemental levy used to keep class sizes from growing during the education cuts in the recession are expiring.
BOISE BOND’S PROJECTS
- Pierce Park Elementary rebuild: $13.8 million
- Whittier Elementary rebuild: $13.8 million
- Amity Elementary rebuild: $13.8 million
- Harris Ranch, new elementary school: $13.8 million
- Highlands Elementary rebuild: $9.7 million
- Mountain View Elementary rebuild: $8.8 million
- Valley View Elementary rebuild: $11.6 million
- Eliminate “cafegymatoriums” at seven schools: $8.5 million
- Washington Elementary infrastructure: $5.4 million
- Professional Technical Center, add class space: $13.4 million
- Timberline High School, add class space: $12.8 million
- Boise High School, update gym/performing arts space: $17.9 million
- Hillside Junior High, new gym, cafeteria, class space: $7.8 million
- Fairmont Junior High, new gym, cafeteria, class space: $7.8 million
- Collister Elementary, remodel P.E., performing arts space: $7.4million
- Longfellow Elementary, remodel P.E., performing arts space: $5.9 million
Source: Boise School District; costs are estimates
Rally set for Saturday
Friends of Boise Schools will host a community rally in support of the bond measure at noon Saturday at Boise City Hall Plaza, 150 N. Capitol Blvd.
Early and Election Day voting
Voters in Boise, West Ada, Kuna and Vallivue will decide bonds and levies.
Early voting continues through March 10. Locations and times:
Ada County Elections office, 400 N. Benjamin Lane Suite 100, Boise: Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
Meridian City Hall, 33 E. Broadway Ave., Meridian: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Boise City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd., Boise: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Canyon County Elections office, 1102 E. Chicago St., Caldwell: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.