For some voters, the question of whether to support Tuesday’s $20.86 million school bond issue comes down to a question of credibility.
Contentious issues have haunted the school district over the years - questions ranging from building maintenance and planning for a new elementary school to a recent debate over science curriculum and double-shifting.
When the specter of double-shifting at the middle school materialized in 1995, skeptics suggested the idea was only a political move to push a bond levy.
“We’re dealing with problems and skeletons from 20 years ago,” Superintendent Dick Harris said. “This is a whole different operation and management.”
School officials and taxpayers alike say the district has come a long way in improving maintenance. Washington Water Power Co. recently presented the district with an award lauding its maintenance energy conservation programs. And Concerned Businesses of North Idaho has praised the school district for its money-managing practices.
The debate over whether doubleshifting is appropriate simmers on, but supporters and opponents of the district’s plan to build a new high school agree that schools are overcrowded - and that something must be done.
Still, the credibility question lingers.
Most recently, parents have complained about the district’s approach to teaching evolution in the schools.
At a forum on teaching creation, one woman said she had voted against bonds in the past and might again if the district doesn’t start offering balanced treatment of crea tion vs. evolution.
The district, however, says it has been responding to parents’ concerns about the issue as best it can.
“There are going to be people in the district who don’t like the decisions the district makes,” Harris said.
When the creation issue first came up, some parents wanted immediate action - something that would not be prudent , Harris said.
“Snap decisions are not healthy,” he said. “The board - on every issue that we’re doing - they take their time. They study it. They research it, and then they make their decision.”
The district is soliciting opinions from legal experts on how it legally can teach creation in the schools, advice on what curriculum should and can be used and input on how other schools deal with the issue.
Jodie Krieg, who supports teaching creation, says she understands complaints such as that of the woman who said she might vote against the school bond if the district doesn’t teach creation.
“We want our tax dollars to go to teaching our children facts,” she said.
But she said she has not made up her mind how she’ll vote Tuesday.
“I just pray that everybody doesn’t get out there and vote for or against it just because they’re lashing out at another issue,” she said.
The school district’s bond would pay for a $17.97 million high school, and an optional $2.89 million would fund an athletic complex as well as an upgrade of the existing high school’s heating system.
Critics of that plan have said some voters distrust the school district because they believe it did not build Prairie View Elementary School as large as it should have.
“There are still some hurt feelings there,” said Don Morgan, a member of the Kootenai County Property Owners Association, a tax watchdog group that aims to keep property taxes down.
Voters passed a $5.13 million bond issue in 1992 to build Prairie View Elementary, a high school track and two gyms.
District officials say they listened to the community before the school was built, and they maintain it should not have been built any larger.
“In my experience over the years, in that range of 600 (students) is about ideal for an elementary,” Harris said.
Prairie View opened in 1994 and now serves 549 students in first through fifth grades.
Harris said people who think the school district is credible and does listen to the community are “those who come to every board meeting and see what kinds of study the board does.”
Even the property owners association, which critically examines how the district spends its money, says things have improved.
Years ago, the group demanded that the district hire a business manager, and the district did, said Dee Lawless, president of the association. That was an improvement, members of the group say, although they also say the district hasn’t listened to them as it should.
But district administrators and school board members insist they listen to all viewpoints.
Since Harris became superintendent in 1994, the district has undergone a management review and has held a summit on education for community comment on how the district was doing. The education summit helped the district generate goals and a mission statement. In the management review, an outside team of 12 people interviewed staff and community members, examined policies and procedures and then presented suggestions.
“There were a lot of commendations of things we were doing right, but there were also 144 recommendations to improve,” Harris said.
Since the report in 1995, the district has accomplished 128 of those recommendations, he said.
“Does everyone get exactly what they want? No, probably not,” Harris said. “Do (district officials) listen to everyone? Yes.”