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Kootenai School Back on Ballot

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The more things change, the more they stay the same? Construction at Kootenai Elementary school is once again on the ballot before Idaho voters.

 

The ‘87 levy. Newcomers to the area probably don’t even know what that refers to, but most oldtimers remember that vote - the first time in a long time that local voters approved tax dollars to improve the infrastructure on our schools.

And not just improve infrastructure. That levy built the current Sandpoint High School, a new high school in Priest River, built elementary schools in Hope, Sagle, Kootenai and Oldtown, and made improvements to each and every other school in the district, which then included the west side of the county, now split into a district of its own.

Supplemental levies since ‘87 have included dollars for infrastructure improvement - roofing, fire alarms, flooring and more. But that ‘87 levy was the last time the community put substantial tax dollars into the buildings where our children spend much of their days for the nine-plus months from September to early June.

And now the school board is back, asking those voters to put substantial dollars into our school buildings once again.

On May 20, when voters head to the polls to vote on two school board trustee positions that will be up for election (those currently held by Joan Fish and by board chair Vickie Pfeifer), they will also have the opportunity to decide if they want to approve a $14.1 million, two-year plant facilities levy that will not only cover construction improvements to most schools in the district, but will add four classrooms to Sagle Elementary, and turn Kootenai Elementary into a full, K-6 elementary school with 11 new classrooms, plus a new administration office, kitchen and gym.

In 1987 voters approved a $15.8 million plant facility levy to add classrooms to the district. Four times in the years since they have rejected pleas for more - in ‘95, ‘96, 2002 and 2006, voters turned down requests that would have increased the number of classrooms at Kootenai, plus taken care of other district facility needs. Back in ‘95, the estimated cost to provide 13 classrooms at Kootenai was $1.5 million. Today, that cost has increased to over $5 million.

Rising construction costs almost prevented Kootenai from ever opening in the first place. As the last school constructed from the ‘87 levy dollars, by the time it earned its place at the construction table, the levy money was thought to be gone. Only after months of examination of levy funds thoughout the years by members of the public was the money reallocated for construction of Kootenai Elementary. It opened its doors to students in the fall of 1997, ten years after the levy to pay for it had passed.

"Basically, we’ve proved that ‘if we build it, they will come,’" former school board trustee Blaine Stevens was quoted as saying as far back as 1998. "We woke a sleeping dragon." Back then, Stevens was speaking of Sandpoint High School, which has operated over capacity since the doors on the new school first opened.

District officials point to the construction of two subdivisions in Kootenai as reasons why adding rooms to the school is imperative. "The Seven Sisters Project is underway already. They are putting in sewers as we speak," said LPOSD Superintendent Dick Cvitanich. "Near that area and behind the storage lockers is another project called Providence which will take up to 200 homes. Of course, this will take time, but once they start and families begin to move in, there is literally nowhere for those kids to go. The cost will only go up."

Additional classrooms at Kootenai might also help with overcrowding at other schools in the district. Cvitanich said, "We also would like to lower the enrollment at Farmin Stidwell. They opened with 630 students this year. We would like to pull that closer to 500, which would mean moving more kids to an enlarged Kootenai. Frankly, we would also keep portables at Kootenai to plan for even more growth, which we think will happen."

Should the levy pass, four additional classrooms will also be built at Sagle Elementary, which was also initially constructed as part of the ‘87 levy. There are currently four portable classrooms in use at Sagle, and those portables would stay in place. "We anticipate growth in the Sagle area as well," Cvitanich explained.

The levy requires a supermajority of voters in order to pass - in Idaho, that translates to 55 percent plus one voter on the yes side of the ticket. By state law, a plant facility levy can only be used to raise funds for capital assets and cannot be used to provide salary dollars or consumable materials. All dollars raised in the plant facility levy must be spent on the projects listed on the ballot.

In addition to the new construction at Kootenai and Sagle, the levy also includes slightly over $2.6 million for deferred maintenance and other capital improvements at every school, including asbestos removal, improvements to utility and communications systems, and other health and safety related needs.

Almost $2.5 million is slotted for district-wide costs, including school buses and kitchen equipment.

For the owner of a home with an assessed taxable value of $240,000, the cost would be approximately $310 per year in each of the two years the levy would run.

Polls will be open from 8 am to 8 pm on May 20, and polling locations include all schools in the Lake Pend Oreille School District except Sandpoint Middle School and Lake Pend Oreille Alternative, along with the district’s administrative office, located on Triangle Dr. in Ponderay, just beyond the Bonner Mall. Alternatively, absentee ballots can be obtained from the Clerk of the board by calling 208-263-5053 X214.

You can visit the district’s website  to download materials on the proposed plant facility levy.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

education, Blaine Stevens, Lake Pend Oreille School District, levy, funding, Kootenai Elementary School, Dick Cvitanich

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