Some Lakeland School District taxpayers, already wrestling with tax rates among the highest in Kootenai County, are balking at a proposed $10 million school bond.
“We are like sheep. The school board throws this thing down on the table, and we just vote for it,” said Larry Clark, a Rathdrum real estate developer and critic of the bond.
But school officials say the projects are badly needed, with 200 more students enrolling every year.
“The things here are not what you might call extravagances,” said Superintendent Bob Jones. “I don’t think anything in this program is fat.”
He said the bond actually is $2 million less than originally proposed.
The district is asking voters to approve the bond March 19. Among other things, it would pay for a new junior high school at Spirit Lake ($5.9 million), more classrooms and play areas at other schools ($1.8 million) and a kitchen for preparing hot lunches for all Lakeland schools ($650,000). For the bond to pass, two-thirds of voters must approve.
“It’s tough to get two-thirds of the people to agree on any given thing on any given day,” said Jones.
Still, Lakeland School District voters have a track record of passing bonds. Since 1962, they’ve passed seven bonds and rejected two.
Lakeland is one of the fastest-growing school districts in Idaho, with student populations surging from 2,300 students to 3,513 in the past six years. That’s nearly 7 percent a year since 1991.
School officials say classroom space isn’t desperately short - yet. But if growth continues at even conservative projections, they say, at least four schools will be over capacity within 2-1/2 years.
Garwood Elementary already is there. Built for 360 students, it now houses 390. The junior high school, with 900 students, is about 100 over capacity.
“It’s our objective to deal with the crowding and get out in front of the growth,” Jones said.
He said such growth will continue. The large district, north and west of Coeur d’Alene, still has many moderately priced lots and is close to jobs in Spokane.
Clark, however, is highly skeptical that the area will maintain the same growth.
“I just don’t think it is in the cards,” he said. “If people think we’re going to grow 7 percent forever, then vote for it (the bond). I think we’re going to plateau.”
The 15-year bond would cost the owner of a $125,000 property about $164 a year, school officials say.
That’s too much, charges Clark, who’s formed a group called “Citizens Against Non-stop Taxation.” The group is meeting at 7 tonight in the Rathdrum Senior Citizens’ Center.
District taxpayers just finished paying off the bond for the high school, he points out, saying he’s reluctant to go right back into debt.
“It’s a dream list,” Clark said of the proposal. “There’s too much fluff in it.”
The group wants the proposal pared down by between $2 million and $4 million. They’d cut the hot lunch kitchen, a gym at the high school, and play areas at Athol and Spirit Lake elementary schools.
In addition, Clark suggested cutting plans to remodel the media center at John Brown Elementary School, reduce the $847,000 contingency fund, and eliminate the $200,000 slated for buying future school sites.
“We’re getting land right now donated to us by developers, plus we own land at Hauser Lake, plus we own 42 acres at Spirit Lake,” he said.
“Everyone thinks we’re anti-education, or anti-schools,” he said. “We’re not. But we think this budget can be reduced by $2 to $4 million.”
, DataTimes MEMO: See related story under the headline: Health board OKs Garwood plan