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N. Idaho residents to vote on professional-technical school

Steve Komberec, auto tech for Knutson Chevrolet in Post Falls, checks the tire depth on a used SUV on Monday, Aug. 9, 2010. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Komberec, auto tech for Knutson Chevrolet in Post Falls, checks the tire depth on a used SUV on Monday, Aug. 9, 2010. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland school district taxpayers would fund construction

Voters in the Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland school districts will go to the polls Aug. 24 to decide whether they’ll pay for the $9.5 million construction of a professional-technical high school on the Rathdrum Prairie.

The Kootenai Technical Education Campus, or KTEC, is envisioned as a way to develop more skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen for this area. It is projected to open in fall 2013 with 180 students who would split their time between the technical school and their regular high school, with available slots divided among the three school districts.

If the levies pass, taxpayers in the three school districts would share construction costs. The measures would need 55 percent approval rates to pass in each district.

The amount of additional property taxes would depend on which district taxpayers reside in. Coeur d’Alene, with its greater tax base, would have the lowest levy rate increase, at an additional 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Lakeland’s rate would be an extra 50 cents per $1,000. Although the levy rate increase in Post Falls would be 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, voters there would not see an increase in taxes because of the reduction of other property taxes.

It remains to be seen what would happen if the measure passes in one or two districts but not in all three. Coeur d’Alene Superintendent Hazel Bauman said if it passes in Coeur d’Alene and one other district, a scaled-back version of the project likely would move forward.

But she urged voters to support the measure to benefit students who she said haven’t been served well by professional-technical programs.

“I’m in classrooms a lot and clearly one size does not fit all. Over the last three decades, vocational education … has sort of fallen by the wayside,” Bauman said. “Consequently the students that … are interested in the trades have not been served well by our high schools, and KTEC is going to serve their needs.”

Tom Taggart, Lakeland’s director of business and operations, said the three school districts working together with businesses and North Idaho College would offer students much more than has been available. North Idaho businesses raised money to buy part of the land and are working to secure equipment donations.

“It’s all come together right now,” Taggart said. “It’s the right time to try it and see what happens.”

Paul Anderson, chairman of the KTEC Committee, said only 15 percent of Idaho ninth-graders eventually achieve a bachelor’s degree.

“What do you do with the 85 percent of kids that don’t go on to get a bachelor’s degree? We really have to help those people,” he said. The new high school also would serve the local economy, he said, because it would provide a trained work force for businesses.

“We really want the kids to go on to college, but that doesn’t mean they have to get a four-year degree. The reality is, very few do,” Anderson said. “For manufacturers, for auto dealerships, for carpentry, for nursing homes, these kids can get a job immediately out of high school. Most kids that participate in the professional-technical programs get their high school diplomas. That’s really great because there’s a lot of kids that drop out and they’re gone.”

The high school would be open to juniors and seniors and initially offer four programs: health occupations, welding, construction and automotive technology. Additional programs, including hospitality, tourism, drafting, manufacturing, information technology, airframe and power plant mechanics and painting, could be added later as demand requires and funds allow.

Eve Knudtsen, president of Knudtsen Chevrolet in Post Falls, said 300,000 automotive technicians nationwide are on the verge of retiring, and her industry needs new skilled workers. But she said even if the proposed high school wouldn’t help her industry, she’d still support it because it will provide opportunities to students who want to get out of high school and go to work.

“I see so many kids that are so talented but don’t do well because they don’t see any relevance. I was one of them. I wanted to go to work,” Knudtsen said. “Here is a way that when somebody graduates from high school they’ll have a way of going out and making a living while figuring out what their next steps might be.”

Ron Nilson, president of Ground Force Manufacturing in Post Falls, said he has made presentations on KTEC to about 20 groups, including Rotary, chamber of commerce and grange groups. He said while some in the audience oppose any new taxes, many didn’t realize the importance of providing technical training to students.

Of the 20 acres on the Rathdrum Prairie dedicated to the technical high school, 10 were donated by the Meyer family, longtime Rathdrum bluegrass farmers. Another 10 were purchased and donated by a consortium of manufacturing businesses supporting the project.

NIC owns an adjacent 40 acres envisioned as the future home of its trades and industry program when funding allows construction of a campus. That will create a seamless transition for students wishing to move from high school to college-level study of their chosen trade, said John Martin, NIC’s vice president of community relations.