A constitutional amendment that would make it easier to pass school bond issues is now in the works.
Democrat Rep. Donna Boe, Pocatello, plans to introduce a amendment to reduce the two-thirds majority requirement for approving school bond issues to 60 percent. She also wants to limit school bond elections to one of four dates each year.
“I think we need to make it a little easier,” said Boe, who serves on the House Education Committee. “The 60 percent still provides a lot of protection for property owners and those who would be financing the bond issue.”
If only 60 percent voter approval were required for bond levies - instead of 66 percent - more than twice as many bonds would have passed in the Idaho Panhandle since 1990. Under the current supermajority rule, 19 bonds have failed and six have passed in that time. But 13 of the 19 failed bonds had more than 60 percent voter support.
For example, the last school bond election in Post Falls failed despite gaining 62.5 percent voter approval. As a result, middle school students this fall began attending school in two shifts, forcing some to find their way to school before sunrise, or back home after dark. That has triggered concerns about student safety among parents.
Boe said school bond elections often are criticized for attracting low turnouts. So her constitutional amendment would require them to be held on either the first Tuesday of February, fourth Tuesday of May, first Tuesday of August or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Al Arnzen, superintendent of the Grangeville-area schools, said reducing the requirement to 60 percent would be a great help.
A few school funding measures in the region have been rejected by just a few percentage points, he said. This spring, voters in his district approved a 10-year $400,000 plant facilities levy, but rejected a $4.6 million bond issue to construct a new grade school building.
Plant facilities levies did not require two-thirds approval.
House Revenue and Taxation Chairman Donna Jones said she probably will be hesitant to support Boe’s bill.
“It is such a serious subject and affects so many property tax owners. They are really going to have to convince me,” the Payette Republican said.
Boe concedes 4th District Judge Daniel Eismann’s dismissal of a lawsuit by Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity takes some of the pressure off the Legislature to solve the backlog of school building needs, now estimated at nearly $1 billion.
The president of the coalition of school districts that filed the lawsuit, Genesee Superintendent David Neumann, has said the group intends to file a motion for reconsideration in its case.