For only about $150,000 more a year, Idaho could provide regional educational programs for deaf and blind students in five regions of the state, rather than run its current school for the deaf and blind in Gooding – where enrollment has been falling, as it has for traditional residential schools for this population nationwide.
That was the conclusion of a report developed by three members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee – Reps. Kathy Skippen, R-Emmett, and Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, and Sen. Patti Anne Lodge – and legislative budget analyst Jason Hancock that was presented to the House Education Committee this morning. The school now enrolls only one student from north of Boise, and has 38 residential students. The legislators said they’re not criticizing the school, which they called a “beautiful” and well-run facility. “We want to give the best possible service to these students,” Lodge told the House committee. “The old-model schools are closing down all over the United States, and we need to step back and say, ‘What’s best for the kids?’”
The committee agreed to introduce legislation based on the report, but if the change happened, it wouldn’t be until fiscal year 2009, which means the 2008 Legislature would make the final call.
Hancock noted that the school’s 40 acres of land includes 20 acres that were deeded to the state by former Idaho Gov. Frank R. Gooding, who served two terms about 100 years ago. The land must be used for a school for the deaf and blind or for some other state institutional purpose – or it returns to Gooding’s heirs. So if the school closes, the state will have to think carefully about how to continue using the site.
“When we stopped and looked at the facility, we were all blown away,” Skippen said. “It’s a beautiful facility.”