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Bonneville patrons blast district’s handling of tax dollars

Education

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IDAHO FALLS — Community members lambasted Bonneville Joint School District 93’s handling of tax dollars in a survey designed to glean feedback on a failed bond issue. Officials say they will now consider waiting two years before floating another bond issue.

Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said he was struck by the lack of trust in the community and miscommunications tied to the bond issue, the Post Register’s Brennen Kauffman reported.

“You lost your patrons’ trust, ” said a survey respondent. “Earn it back. Work for that. Please. My kids shouldn’t have to suffer because of adults’ poor choices.”

Woolstnhulme called perceptions of the bond a “doom loop” for east Idaho’s largest and growing district.

“I would say we don’t anticipate running a bond for two more years, but circumstances might change and make it necessary before that point,” Kauffman reported Woolstenhulme as saying.

Over 1,200 students, parents and community members participated in an online survey put out by the district in the wake of its failed $42.7 million August bond issue. The bond was to build an elementary school and upgrade Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools. The survey went live Sept. 19. Officials unveiled results at a Sept. 25 board meeting.

Of the 619 survey respondents who reported voting in the bond election, 391 said they supported the measure. Just over 200 said they opposed it.

Those opposed keyed in on two “very important” factors in their decision: perceptions of high property taxes and poor stewardship of local tax dollars.

Bonnville survey respondents keyed in on two “very important” factors in their decision to vote no on a recent bond issue: perceptions of high property taxes and poor stewardship of tax dollars.

The district’s past use of tax dollars surfaced as a key talking point weeks ahead of the August election. Local opposition group D93 Citizens repeatedly referenced a $191,000 payout to former Superintendent Chuck Shackett’s retirement account.

Shackett’s windfall was part of a secretive 2018 separation agreement with the district. Trustees never discussed the agreement in a public meeting. EdNews last year uncovered the document through a public records request.

Woolstenhulme last month told EdNews the district will fund Shackett’s payout by holding off on replacing a retired deputy superintendent.

Over a dozen survey respondents referenced Shackett’s payout as a rationale for opposing the August bond issue. One respondent told trustees they were not “ostriches” and to stop “sweeping incidents and questionable actions under rugs.”

Others offered more candid criticism of the payout.

“We want answers and a public apology for misspending Shackett’s gift of $191,000. Inexcusable,” another respondent wrote.

Other comments swirled around Bonneville’s share of local property taxes — and perceptions that the district is overzealous in its requests for local funds.

“You think that you can just spend and spend,” one person wrote.

Past construction projects aimed at absorbing local population growth have kept Bonneville’s local tax burden high in recent years. Last year, patrons approved a $35.3 million bond issue for a new middle school. Three months later, the district’s new $63.5 million Thunder Ridge High School opened its doors.

But Woolstenhulme points to a combination of two factors driving up taxes: prolonged population growth and the district’s still-developing tax base.

Of Idaho’s ten largest school districts, Bonneville’s tax base is the smallest in terms of market value, according to State Department or Education numbers. Tapping into a relatively small tax base while grappling with population growth fuels Bonneville’s high levy rate.

The combination of growth and a developing tax base illustrates the need for added state help in funding infrastructure in districts, Woolstenhulme recently argued.

Other survey respondents said an overload of information — and misinformation — confused them ahead of the bond issue.

The survey also gathered input on what the district should do next. Click here to view the entire survey.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on Oct. 8, 2019

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