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Idaho Enterprise

Public Hearing on new elementary plan

On Monday night, Superintendent Jon Abrams hosted a public hearing to discuss the

specifics of the upcoming school bond election and the proposed new elementary school

which would be built as a result of its passage. The election is scheduled for March 14, and

requires a supermajority of 66.66% of votes cast in order to be successful.

Abrams began by reiterating the primary point that for Oneida County voters the school bond election will not have any effect on property taxes. This is due to two main factors, which Abrams devoted much of his presentation to discussing: the fact that the state bond equalization process contributes funding to the building of school buildings and projects, and the related fact that the influx of “school at home” students into IHLA has increased the student enrollment numbers for the county.

State bond equalization is a process by which state education funds match a percentage of bonded projects based on a formula derived from the number of enrolled students. In the case of Oneida county, the bond equalization would match around 38% of the maximum bonding capacity for the county, which is $30 million.  This means that if the bond passes, the state would pay around $12 million of the cost for the proposed new elementary school, as well as a new softball and baseball field to be built near the high school.

The district itself would be responsible for around $19 million, which it has already

secured. The majority of the funding the district has managed to lock away comes from the

massive increase in enrollment in IHLA over the last two years. As a result of COVID, the

number of school at home students has increased across the state, with Oneida county

technically becoming their home district. From just over 2000 students two years ago, IHLA

now has an enrollment over 7000, which brings with it a much larger amount of state funding

due to enrollment.

Neither the bond equalization nor the IHLA enrollment figures are guaranteed in

perpetuity, which Abrams explained made this an especially unique time to take advantage of

the current opportunities available to the district.  “This is the right time, and the right place, to do something great for generations in this area,” Abrams said.

School board vice chair Chalae Teeples explained that “these tax dollars are already collected.  The equalization is our tax dollars, coming back to our community.”

John Abrams expanded, “the taxes have already been collected.  They can be spent somewhere else in the state, or they can be spent on our school.”  Abrams and the school board were clear to state that they were not in a position to promote a particular vote on the bond election, though Abrams did reiterate that “if the bond isn’t passed, we won’t build the school.”

The PTO was also in attendance, and explained from the audience that it was their plan to promote a yes vote on the upcoming election, as well as provide material support in the form of signs and campaigning.  “We will be providing rides to the polls on March 14th for those that need them,” Melanie Coleman stated.

Given the unusual funding realities that have led to the potential new school, Superintendent Abrams was clear in his assurance that the current financials have been verified.  Regardless of anything that might change in the future at the state level, Abrams assured the audience that the funding plan was secure. “I’m not pitching something that the school board and I haven’t been over and over again. We’ve talked to people at the state level many times, and we’re assured this is something we can do.” In response to a question about the potential for equalization to change in the future, Abrams replied, “We don’t know what might happen somewhere down the road, of course, but we do know that this is something we can do now.”  Other members of the school board explained that in their visits with lawmakers  they had clearly heard an expressed desire to maintain the equalization funding into the foreseeable future.

Abrams displayed the plans for the school itself, which include a classroom capacity for

around 600 students, which is more than Malad Elementary is currently able to accommodate.

The plans incorporate the idea that the county will likely be growing in the next decades. As

anyone in the county can attest, growth has already become a noted reality.

The school will also feature an updated security system, with limited entry points and

magnetic door locking systems that can be triggered from the administrative offices in the

event of an emergency.  Another feature that was touted was the fact that the cafeteria will be a completely separate room from the multipurpose room or gym, which is not the case in many elementaries.

The question of why baseball and softball fields were being created near the high school was raised.  Abrams explained that it was a way to maximize the available funding for the present by locking in those facilities.

Abrams explained that he was not concerned about either the plan for the school or the funding itself, but he was somewhat concerned about the timeline.  “We’re experiencing a very cold winter, as you know.  My main concern is that we may have some issues with our plan to have the new school up and running in our timeframe.”

Abrams was not reticent about the ability to pay for the building, however.  “Normally, these are twenty year bonds.  We’ll be able to do it in three or less, based on the funds we already have in place if this bond passes.  That will let us start the bonding process for an auditorium and field house very soon.”

Some concern was expressed about the lack of an auditorium in the current design.  Abrams explained that the gym in the current plans would provide a modular auditorium function to the elementary until an auditorium bond could be pursued down the road in the net few years.  The gym will be adjacent to a stage and music room facility that would allow for the kinds of events the community has come to expect from the current MES auditorium.  The seating capacity of the gym bleachers is 400, with the addition of floor seats possible in front of the stage area.  A modernized sound system would also be built into the design.  

Should the bond pass, construction of the new school would occur while the current MES is in operation.  “It might be a little uncomfortable for a while,” Abrams suggested, “but it will definitely be worth it.”

The vote for the school bond election will be held on March 14, at the Oneida County Event Center.  Voters in precincts 5 and 6 in Holbrook and Stone will be sent mail in ballots, which must returned by the day of the vote.  Anyone can vote early at the Recorder’s Office from February 27 to March 10.  Voting on March 14 will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

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