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Voters approve technical campus on Rathdrum Prairie

Joint program will serve three districts

Voters in three North Idaho school districts Tuesday said yes to a levy that will raise property taxes for two years to build a $9.5 million professional-technical high school on the Rathdrum Prairie.

Voters in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls overwhelmingly supported the measure with 65 percent and 66 percent approval, respectively. In the Lakeland School District, the measure squeaked by, earning 55.27 percent, just above the 55 percent approval rating required.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane. “It is certainly a project that will serve Kootenai County kids for a lot of years.”

Taxes for Coeur d’Alene property owners will rise by 35 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value for two years. In Lakeland, the levy rate will be 50 cents per $1,000; in Post Falls, it will be 55 cents. However, Post Falls taxpayers will not see an increase because other taxes are expiring.

Many voters interviewed at polling places throughout North Idaho on Tuesday said the school would help students stay here to find work. They also said they the school would be good for the economy, attracting businesses and providing a skilled work force.

“It’s going to give more kids more opportunities,” said Laura York of Coeur d’Alene as she left Ramsey Elementary School after casting her vote in favor. “It’s so hard for kids to get jobs these days, and if this is another option for them, I think it’s a great idea.”

However, other voters worried about the economy said it was the wrong time to ask stressed taxpayers for more money.

“I just think this is a really hard time to do it,” said Linda Koehler, of Coeur d’Alene, after voting at Ramsey Elementary with her husband, Steve. “It just feels like a pile-on. Families are trying to just survive. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; it’s just bad timing.”

However, the “yes” votes won out in the end.

“I don’t believe every student is college-bound,” said Randy Koch, of Post Falls, after voting in favor of the levy with his wife, Jeneane. Koch said he went straight to work in construction after receiving training in high school and owned his own business by the time he was 21 years old. “I’m a product of vocational education, and when I got out of high school, I went straight out into the field.”

Supporters have said the Kootenai Technical Education Campus would open in 2013 with 180 students from all three districts. The measure was strongly supported by many within the business community, who said the high school would help provide a skilled work force while offering options to the 85 percent of Idaho high school students who do not complete a bachelor’s degree.

Some 20 acres of land on the Rathdrum Prairie have been dedicated to the technical high school, 10 of which were donated by the Meyer family, longtime Rathdrum bluegrass farmers. Another 10 were purchased and donated to the effort by a consortium of manufacturing business owners supporting the project.

Lakeland voter Michael Cole, of Rathdrum, said the Spokane architecture firm he works for has designed several professional-technical high schools in Washington state where he said they’re “all the rage.” He said traditional high schools offer carpentry and metal shop classes but the “other trades aren’t well represented.

“The high schools around here can’t justify having a dedicated auto shop,” Cole said after voting in favor of the levy. “It’s a good way to serve the needs of high school students who aren’t on a college track.”

The high school will be open to juniors and seniors from all three districts and will start with four programs: health occupations, welding, construction and automotive technology. Additional programs, including hospitality, tourism, drafting, manufacturing, and airframe and power plant mechanics, could be added later as demand requires and funds allow.

“I feel absolutely thrilled,” Coeur d’Alene Superintendent Hazel Bauman said. “This is such a victory for our kids. This is going to be phenomenal.”