Voters finally OK replacement for crumbling Idaho school. West Ada levy passes, Kuna’s fails

The Salmon School District will finally get a new school.

After decades of voters rejecting every bond the district ran, the community on Tuesday approved a $20 million bond to build a new pre-K-8 school with a resounding 72% support.

The election comes after the Idaho Statesman and ProPublica reported last year on how children across the state were learning in schools with freezing classrooms, leaking roofs and discolored water. Salmon was one of the most poignant examples, having run around a dozen failed bonds over the past two decades to replace its crumbling schools.

At Salmon’s Pioneer Elementary, the plumbing is failing, the floors are uneven and pose tripping hazards and sewage sometimes backs up into a corner of the kitchen. Parts of the building aren’t accessible for students with disabilities. The foundation is crumbling.

The district is one of only two that has ever turned to a state program created in 2006 that lets school districts borrow money from the state if they have unsafe facilities and can’t pass a bond or figure out another way to fix them. But a state panel at the time decided that Salmon’s problems did not warrant a new school under the law, only new roofs and seismic reinforcements. After that process, the district ultimately decided to close its middle school, which now sits abandoned beside the the elementary school, surrounded by a wire fence.

When the Statesman and ProPublica visited the elementary school last year, it had many of the same problems it had about a decade ago, when it first applied for help from the state.

Over the past several months, a group called the Salmon Schools Needs Assessment Committee has been active on social media to provide information about the bond and share the challenges that the elementary school faces.

Jill Patton, the principal of the elementary school, said she is “deeply thankful” that the community came together to support the district’s schools. She praised the grassroots initiative spearheaded by the needs assessment committee.

The effort “involved a remarkable group that dedicated countless hours to understanding community concerns and identifying preferred solutions,” she said in an email. “They meticulously developed a plan that the community could rally behind.”

Kuna levy fails, West Ada levy passes

The Kuna School District’s supplemental levy, which would have provided the district $5.3 million per year for two years, failed with about 43% support. The measure needed a simple majority to pass.

The levy would have funded 15 teachers, including four kindergarten teachers, along with some facilities maintenance projects. It also would have helped maintain existing curriculum and technology, and provided some funds for facilities maintenance needs, according to the district. Most districts across Idaho rely on supplemental levies for operational needs.

Kuna School District spokesperson Allison Westfall said in an email that the district is “disappointed” with the outcome of the election, but it will work in the coming days to “identify how to adjust our spending” as it finalizes its budget for next school year.

“We appreciate that this would have been a tax increase for our property owners and that likely was the key factor in the outcome,” Westfall said in an email to the Statesman.

In West Ada, voters approved a supplemental levy that will provide about $13.8 million per year for two years. That measure will help provide for the salaries of around 150 teachers, along with the services of 19 student resource officers.

Ahead of the vote, the district said there would be a “significant reduction in workforce” if the measure failed.