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Lawsuit claims school district sold land illegally

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The school district sold land west of Taylorview Middle School to Rockwell Homes. In exchange, Rockwell gave the school district land near the intersection of South Holmes Avenue and 65th South and paid the district $263,000. | Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — A lawsuit claims Idaho Falls School District 91 sold land to be developed through an illegal land swap.

Local attorney Joshua Chandler filed a lawsuit against School District 91, the school board and Rockwell Homes Thursday. The suit claims the school district engaged in an illegal real estate transaction with Rockwell Homes by never putting the land it sold to the developer up for public bid.

“The district has a pattern or practice, going back a lot of years, of disposing of its property — of public property that belongs to the public — not through a competitive bidding process, but through a purported land swap process,” Chandler told EastIdahoNews.com.

The school district sold land west of Taylorview Middle School to Rockwell Homes. In exchange, Rockwell gave the school district land near the intersection of South Holmes Avenue and 65th South and paid the district $263,000.

The deal was approved by the school board on January 16.

Chandler said he and the other homeowners in the area didn’t know the land had been sold until some residents received a notice that Rockwell Homes had filed a plat proposal with the city of Idaho Falls.

“There was no public bidding on this piece of ground. It was sold at appraisal value with no opportunity for the public to know about it and no opportunity for the public to participate,” Chandler said.

He explained he isn’t against the land being sold and developed. What he has a problem with is the way the district went about selling the land through, what he believes, is an illegal land swap.

“This wasn’t a land swap anyway,” Chandler said. “What happened here, is a developer gave them a piece of ground worth $230,000, roughly, and $263,000 in cash in return for a piece of ground that was worth $497,000. So, more than half of the consideration for this exchange was cash.”

The Idaho code that deals with school property, Idaho code 33-601, has a section that describes the process by which a school board can engage in a land swap.

In the lawsuit, Chandler argues that section of Idaho code does not permit the district to bypass the bidding process.

“With any land transaction, including this one, we work very closely with our legal counsel to make sure that we are following the process and also meeting all of the requirements that are outlined in Idaho statutes,” School District 91 spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne told EastidahoNews.com.

Chandler said he is not seeking any personal gain with the lawsuit.

“My position is really very simple. I just want this to stop,” he explained. “I just want them to do the right thing by the taxpayers.”

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