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Hopes For Schools Fade In Early Returns Post Falls, Lakeland Bond Levies Falling Short

Dreams of a new high school faded here Tuesday night, with early returns showing the $15.8 million bond levy failing by a fraction of a percentage point.

“It doesn’t look good,” Post Falls Superintendent Dick Harris said during a late-night school board meeting convened for the count.

In the Rathdrum Prairie’s Lakeland school district, with only half of precincts reporting, the results were teetering on the edge of success and failure.

Both school districts were trying to bounce back from elections last spring, when similar measures failed.

Bond issue proponents in Post Falls were helped in the latest campaign by advice from other school districts and a full-time campaign manager.

In Lakeland, the levy’s chances were improved, too, when last spring’s wealthy opponent, Larry Clark, became this fall’s biggest bond backer.

Clark altered his outlook after the district changed its proposal from a $9.5 million junior high and elementary school remodel, to an $8.6 million combined junior-senior high school in Spirit Lake.

But not enough voters appeared to be swayed Tuesday.

While both bond issues easily drew a majority of “yes” votes, it was unclear whether they would clear the two-thirds voter-approval hurdle that plagues Idaho school districts.

School officials often complain that Idaho’s “super-majority” requirement makes it nearly impossible to pass construction levies.

There were no complaints about low voter turnout Tuesday, however.

“So far, I think we’re up across all the polling places,” said Ron Schmidt, Lakeland’s assistant superintendent.

Crowded conditions at Post Falls Junior High and record growth in Lakeland schools fueled repeated attempts to get bonds passed.

In Post Falls, school officials were asking for essentially the same help they requested last March, making this their third attempt in two years to pass a high school bond levy.

To ease overcrowding, especially at the decrepit junior high school, the plan called for building a new high school and moving junior high students to the existing high school.

The $15.8 million levy would also include money to refurbish the heating system at the existing high school.

In addition, the plan called for shifting the ninth grade to the high school and converting the junior high to a middle school, which would mean transferring sixth-graders from elementary schools to the middle school.

Not only do educators believe the sixth- through eighth-grade arrangement is better educationally and socially for students, but the shift also frees up more room in the overcrowded elementary schools.

A separate ballot measure sought $1.9 million to build a community auditorium and athletic complex at the new high school.

That measure also appeared to be failing Tuesday night.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo