FOR THE RECORD (October 1, 1996): The Lakeland School District bond election will be Tuesday, Oct. 8. The date was given incorrectly in a Monday article.
Larry Clark is putting a new spin on an old saying: If you can beat ‘em, join ‘em.
The Rathdrum developer, who bankrolled opposition to the Lakeland School District’s bond levy in March, is now spearheading the effort to pass its Nov. 8 bond proposal.
“I’m putting in 60, 80 hours a week,” Clark said Friday. “I’m at meetings until midnight or 1 a.m.”
Clark doesn’t see his actions as an about-face.
He wasn’t opposed last spring to relieving overcrowding in the schools, he said. He just didn’t like the $9.5 million proposal to build a second junior high school and remodel several elementary schools.
Lakeland is now proposing an $8.6 million plan to build a combined junior-senior high in Spirit Lake and upgrade Garwood Elementary.
“This bond is a total 180 degrees different,” he said. “It takes care of secondary school needs for many years to come.”
The March proposal garnered 57 percent “yes” votes, well short of the two-thirds supermajority required for passage of bond levies.
The failure was hard for some people to swallow.
Lakeland had a reputation of supporting its schools. Seven out of nine previous bond proposals passed.
The turnout of 3,200 voters was the most ever for a school bond election. Many who voted against the measure considered a second junior high to be a short-term fix.
“We had to say to them that in three to five years, we’re going to have to hit you up for a high school,” said school board chairman Joy Porter.
There was no argument that the schools are overcrowded.
“There are 90 kids in a P.E. class, three kids to a locker,” Clark said of Lakeland Junior High.
The district has added 1,200 students in the past six years. Many live in subdivisions, such as Clark’s Lakeland Pines, which is next to the junior and senior high schools in Rathdrum.
Clark’s in-laws once owned the land occupied by the two schools. He and his wife, Helen, live in what he calls the “Gone with the Wind” colonial estate on the prairie. The sign marking its entrance was spraypainted by vandals during the last campaign, he said.
“It was really tough,” he said. “I got a lot of (abusive) phone calls and derogatory mail. Some people thought I was against education, and nothing is further from the truth.”
Now Clark sports a “Yes for Lakeland Schools” button. He’s orchestrating an ad campaign for the election in a way no one in the district has done before, Porter said.
“He has been fantastic,” she said.
Everyone he’s talked to supports the new proposal, Clark said. Some promise to vote for it simply because he says it’s OK.
As part of his sales pitch, Clark explains:
Most homeowners won’t pay higher property taxes if they vote “Yes.”
According to district calculations, the owner of a $125,000 home would actually see a $14 decrease (from $164 to $150) in the amount of taxes spent to retire school bonds in 1997. That’s because the amount of total property value in the district is rising dramatically.
The combined junior/senior high school is efficient because only one set of administration offices, cafeteria and gym need be built. Classrooms can be added as the need arises. There would be separate wings for the junior high, senior high, vocational training and gymnasium/ cafeteria.
The school would be built on land the district already owns. Spirit Lake, 10 miles north of Rathdrum, is the only other place in the district with a sewer system in place.
The new school would be completed by fall 1998. The remodeling and addition of three classrooms to Garwood Elementary would be completed by fall 1997.
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