Parents of elementary students in Spirit Lake and Athol want a place where their kids can go to get out of the rain during recess.
Garwood Elementary teacher Debbie Shepherd wants a bigger room for her 20 students, who are now crammed into a space half the size of a regular classroom.
Physical education teachers at the junior high want fewer than 90 students in the gym at one time.
Those interests are going head-to-head with fed-up taxpayers Tuesday, many of whom are fighting the district’s proposed $9.3 million bond levy.
The bond issue, if approved, will pay for:
Construction of a junior high school for about 450 students in Spirit Lake.
Adding seven classrooms to Garwood Elementary and five to the high school.
Adding a practice gym at the high school and remodeling the high school science room.
Erecting covered play areas at two schools.
Future school sites worth up to $200,000.
Critics say the school district is simply asking for too much.
“Some of the things that have been questioned are very near and dear to the hearts of parents in some of the schools,” counters Bob Jones, Lakeland’s superintendent.
Also drawing opposition is the second item on Tuesday’s ballot, a $650,000 bond issue to start a hot lunch program.
Parents have been pestering the school district for years to start a hot lunch program.
“We have so many students who don’t have any lunches,” said Lynette Luppens, an aide at Spirit Lake Elementary. The food bank and teachers donate food for children, some of whom are too embarrassed to ask for it.
Advocates argue also that a hot lunch program will help bring in federal dollars for remedial reading and vocational programs. The school is eligible for that federal money based on the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
The chief critic in the bond issue debate is Larry Clark, a wealthy landowner and developer in Rathdrum. Clark is also the past chairman of the Rathdrum planning and zoning commission.
He contends that school officials are exaggerating the growth projections that justify building a new school and adding more classrooms.
The school district will not continue to see the almost 7 percent growth in student population that it’s averaged over the last few years, Clark said.
“This is where they’re doing a panic attack, I think,” he said. After all, it’s been about six months since Rathdrum has approved a new subdivision plat.
True, but Rathdrum is still seeing plenty of activity on the hundreds of currently available lots, said Jan Hale, city planner.
Randy Barcus, a Washington Water Power economic forecaster, predicts continued growth, especially in north Kootenai County - which makes up Lakeland School District.
“There’s a lot of developable space in that area,” he said. “It’s got good proximity to Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls job centers, and very good access to the manufacturing businesses in the Spokane Valley.”
Some bond proponents suspect Clark’s motives for spending more than $2,000 to defeat the bond stems from bad blood over an old land deal with the schools. At the time, the district was looking to acquire a piece of Clark’s land for a bus turnaround.
However, both Clark and Jones dismiss those rumors.
Clark wants the school district to come back in six months with a smaller bond issue, but bond proponents say the time to build is now.
Interest rates are at a three-year low and construction costs will only climb.
Moreover, the junior high is almost over capacity, forcing some teachers to go without permanent classrooms, and Garwood has run out of space. The new facilities won’t be available for two years, if passed now.
“There’s a possibility that if we don’t pass this bond issue, we’ll have a big-city feel to our schools and we’ll start warehousing our kids,” said parent Debbie Russell.
To Russell and other supporters, the cost is worth it. The bond issue is structured so school facility tax rates won’t climb above the 1995 rate of $2.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
That means a homeowner with a taxable value of $75,000 would pay $164 in school facility taxes annually. If a homeowner’s property value increases, however, so do the taxes.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: VOTE TUESDAY The polls will be open Tuesday in the Lakeland School District from noon until 8 p.m. at the elementary schools, the Bayview Community Center, and the Twin Lakes and Hauser Lake fire stations.