D93 tabling $58.5M bond for new middle school

Idaho Falls

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Bonneville School District 93 bus | Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — After intense discussion at a school board meeting Wednesday, Bonneville Joint School District 93’s trustees are not moving forward with a $58.5 million bond measure to build a new middle school.

The school board previously approved the bond measure in June. It also covered the construction cost of a special-education hub, and a roof and drop-off area for Iona and Falls Valley elementary schools.

But this week, the board took another vote, because they received a new board member — Scott Lynch was sworn in July 1.

This time, the board was split 3-2 in its decision, with three trustees in favor of building a new elementary school, rather than a new middle school. During the previous meeting in June, it had been the opposite — three trustees had voted for a new middle school rather than an elementary school, Bonneville Superintendent Charles Shackett said.

Lynch, who took the Zone 5 seat formerly occupied by Jeff Bird, had promised to use his vote to rescind the measure for a new middle school, Idaho Education News reports. Lynch’s vote was aligned with board members Paul Jenkins and Chad Dance, who both voted against the project in June.

“Since January, we’ve known that the middle school was a very real possibility,” Trustee Greg Calder said in the EdNews article. “I think it was poor administration of the project.”

“We just have a spit board on a very difficult decision. Not one side’s right or wrong — it’s just, which direction do we go first?” Shackett said.

Shackett said the issue has been tabled and the bond won’t be moving forward for election in August after all.

“The board’s trying to get to a solution that could end up being a 5-0 vote, but the complication now is we’ve passed the deadline for doing the election in August,” Shackett said.

With overcrowding in the district’s elementary schools due to the area’s population growth, administrators have been forced to find a solution.

Shackett said it all comes down to the best location to educate sixth-graders.

“There’s some that feel sixth-graders are fine in the 6, 7, 8 configuration, and others feel that sixth-graders are still young kids, and they should be K-6 elementary and not around eighth graders,” Shackett said.

Bonneville School District 93 main office | Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com

Shackett said he represents school administrators and staff when he says he feels sixth-graders should remain in the K-6 configuration.

“It’s not just me. I think we’d all rather see sixth-graders continue to be nurtured at the elementary level and wait as long as possible to put them up in the upper grades,” Shackett said.

Shackett said if the 1,200-seat middle school is built, 1,000 of the seats would be filled with sixth-graders because of the potential configuration change.

“In essence, we were building a middle school to solve the elementary problem, which is fine — it’s just another way of doing it,” Shackett said.

A new middle school holding 1,200 students would cost roughly $48 million while a new elementary school holding 650 students would cost about $16 million.

Shackett said the vote ultimately came down to cost.

Shackett said some solutions would be to build both: an elementary school and a smaller middle school. The costs would be covered without the tax levy being raised. Or, to make room for students, the district could build an $8 million special-education hub. The hub would free up 12 classrooms in various elementary schools and consolidate all special-education services to one centralized location.

“The hub saves money because it’s easier to service kids and you don’t have to duplicate the services at all the different elementary (schools) when it’s at one spot,” Shackett said. “It’d be a good way without a boundary change to free up classroom space at the elementary schools.”

Now the board will have until September to decide on the best solution so the measure can be put on the November ballot.