Gov. Little presents millions of dollars to four local school districts. Here's why. - East Idaho News

Gov. Little presents millions of dollars to four local school districts. Here’s why.

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IDAHO FALLS – Gov. Brad Little paid a visit to eastern Idaho Thursday to celebrate the passage of HB 521, which provides historic funding for school buildings across the state.

During his State of the State Address, the governor introduced a 10-year, $2 billion plan to replace Idaho’s aging public school buildings. It’s a proposal he and his aides have determined is the largest investment in school facilities in state history.

RELATED | Governor’s plan to replace Idaho’s aging schools signed into law

The bill, which was signed into law in March, makes money available to any public or charter school with a 10-year maintenance plan. The funds are provided by a $1.6 billion bond purchased by the state. It can only be used for the construction of a new building, maintenance on a current building or be saved for a future project.

The money is being distributed to schools across the state based on average daily attendance records.

West Ada Joint School District 2 in Meridian was allocated the most amount of money, totaling $150,887,608.

Madison, Jefferson, Bonneville and Idaho Falls School Districts were given a signed check from the governor Thursday. Bonneville Joint School District 93 received $51.8 million, which is the largest amount on the eastern side of the state, according to Little’s press secretary Madison Hardy.

A check for $42.1 million was presented to Idaho Falls School District 91 to rousing applause Thursday afternoon.

During a brief ceremony, Little praised the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, and other local legislators in attendance, for supporting the bill and helping it get “across the finish line.”

“This funding will help school districts across the state, including yours, make much-needed improvements and improve students’ achievement,” Little said.

Idaho Falls School District Superintendent Karla LaOrange tells she’s grateful for the funds and to the Legislature for making it possible.

In the wake of having a 10-year $33 million levy for a new elementary school voided and declared illegal by a district judge, LaOrange says the board is still trying to determine how to divvy out the money.

RELATED | D91 elementary school levy declared illegal and voided by district judge

“We also have maintenance needs and a lot of things that need to be upgraded, so they’ll be setting those priorities over the next few months,” LaOrange says.

Madison School District 321 was awarded $23.79 million. Jefferson School District 251 received $28.1 million.

The inspiration for HB 521 came about as a result of the governor’s visit to a school in Salmon last September. He and his staff, along with state Reps. Rod Furniss, Jerald Raymond, Sen. Van Burtenshaw, administrators and others made a stop in the area as part of his “Capitol for a Day” event.

They observed sewage leaking into a space under the cafeteria at Pioneer Elementary, and the governor referenced it in his State of the State Address.

“Folks, we can do better,” Little said. spoke with a member of the Salmon Schools Needs Assessment Committee in January, who cited numerous problems with the 66-year-old building. About 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade deal with a crumbling foundation, overcrowded classrooms, and issues with plumbing and deteriorating pipes.

At the high school where grades six through 12 attend, there are two portable buildings outside the school to accommodate overcrowding. Committee member Windy Schoby says the portable buildings do not have running water, so students have to walk in the main building to use the bathroom.

RELATED | Lawmaker breaks down governor’s plan to replace Idaho’s aging schools, and how it would help local community

Attempts to pass a bond to address these challenges have failed 13 times. They’re hoping to pass another bond on May 21.

The cost of building a new elementary school is around $29 million, but members of the community have asked the district to limit the bond amount to $20 million. Though the $2.6 million Salmon School District 291 received from the state offsets it slightly, it still isn’t enough to build a new school.

If approved, the bond would benefit around 400 students and cost taxpayers $124 per $100,000 taxable value.

Schoby is asking voters to approve it.

“We need a safe, simple, secure school that works for Lemhi County, and this is the right plan at the right time,” Schoby says.

rendering of new elementary school
A rendering of what the new elementary school would look like | Courtesy Salmon Schools Needs Assessment Committee

The bond needs a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass.

Whether or not it passes, Schoby says the need isn’t going away and they’ll continue to work to find a solution.

“We can’t let our kids continue to kick the can for another five, 10 years,” says Schoby.