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'The growth isn't gonna stop': Failed bonds concern Idaho school districts

Vallivue and Middleton bonds failed on the Aug. 30 ballot. The bonds were designed to fund new schools to accommodate for the growing number of students.

CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — The Vallivue School District and Middleton School District failed to pass bonds on the Aug. 30. ballot; bonds that would have funded new schools.

Both school districts called the election results "disappointing." New schools are necessary to keep up with continued growth throughout the Treasure Valley, Vallivue Public Information Officer Joey Palmer said 

"There's thousands of homes that are on deck to be constructed in the upcoming years. That's gonna bring a lot of families," Palmer said. "We wanted to meet the needs of our teachers and our students."

The need for more facilities is a statewide problem.

Idaho education non-profit BLUUM conducted a study at the beginning of 2021. BLUUM projects Idaho public schools will have to accommodate an additional 39,480 K-8 students and 2,998 additional high school students by the year 2030.

BLUUM's study concluded Idaho will need to build 98 new elementary schools and six additional high schools.

"School districts bursting at the seams," BLUUM CEO Terry Ryan said. "If you've got overcrowded classrooms, that affects the ability of teachers to be successful and schools to be successful."

If voters are unwilling to pass bonds, Ryan suggests school districts revise their next bond measure.

"What amenities do taxpayers and districts think they need? You can build a building without a very big gym or without a gym at all," Ryan said. "Is that a tradeoff that the taxpayers and parents want to make and the districts want to make or not? I think there are tough conversations that can be had around that, but at the end of the day, you have to build buildings."

Ryan works primarily with charter schools. BLUUM has found success in funding "bare-bones" charter facilities because they cost less than other options.

BLUUM has not found any correlation between the quality of a facility and student performance.

"It's about what happens in that classroom," Ryan said. "There's tough conversations that can be had around that, but at the end of the day, you have to build buildings."

RELATED: Election results for Idaho school bonds and levies

Vallivue has built portable classrooms on existing school property to tame the problem -- however, they are still behind. That's because land developers don't have to pay an impact fee to Vallivue when they build a new subdivision in the school district, according to Palmer.

"Currently, I meet with developers to see if they'll be willing to donate to Vallivue School District if the city council approves their development," Palmer said. "To be quite frank with you, most developers say, 'no, we don't have to pay you a dime,' and they still get approved by the city councils."

Without impacts fees or bonds passing on the ballot, Idaho school districts have their hands tied in an effort to keep up with growth.

"We just need to regroup, see how we can meet the needs of our kids and retain the teachers we do have. That way we are not overworking the with bad student-to-teacher ratio in the classrooms," Palmer said. "So, we'll figure something out."

Middleton plans to reach out to voters to identify their objections to the recently failed bond, according to Middleton Superintendent Marc Gee.

"Meanwhile, we’ll continue to educate the community’s children and find a way to build consensus around the best way to provide adequate school facilities," Gee wrote KTVB in an email. "I have said it a thousand times, and I will continue to say it: Middleton is a fantastic community, and we have some of the best educators in the state and nation. Setbacks, while frustrating and disappointing, often lead to greater achievements."

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