Voters reject Cassia County, Minidoka County and Filer school bonds

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Voters rejected the largest three school bonds in Tuesday's election — Cassia County, Minidoka County and Filer — but approved smaller ballot measures across the Magic Valley.

To help keep up with enrollment growth and finish leftover projects from a 2015 bond, the Cassia County School District sought $56.7 million bond. While 53.91% of voters said "yes" Tuesday, the tally fell far short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass.

"I think that there was a great effort in the community and a desire by the (school) board to try to provide information for patrons," Cassia County School District spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said Tuesday night. "This is the way the community has input on solutions for facility needs."

The Cassia County school board will meet March 21 to talk about what comes next, Critchfield said. "The growth and the pressures of aging facilities, that doesn't change or go away."

The school board will look at what it can do that's within its control, she said, and "find options for pressure points" affecting schools across Cassia County.

The bond would have paid for an extensive list of projects, with the biggest ticket items including classrooms at four schools, finishing the new Declo Elementary School and demolishing the old building, new gymnasiums at two schools, expanding Cassia Regional Technical Center, and purchasing land and building a new agriculture science building at Declo High School.

In a written statement, Cassia County School District Superintendent Jim Shank said: "We are disappointed but recognize that the voters of Cassia County have spoken. Regardless of the outcome, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the citizen's committee, the Board of Trustees the campaign, our staff, parent-teacher organizations, media outlets and to those who considered the needs of our school buildings. A tremendous effort was put forth and we honor that effort.

"Looking ahead, it is clear that the facility needs of the district have not changed. Growth without additional classrooms will require some difficult decisions. The repair, maintenance, and upgrade of aging structures will continue to be a significant challenge."

Back in 2015 — after three failed attempts — Cassia County voters approved a $36.95 million bond to build new schools and complete other projects across the Cassia County School District.

But due to inaccurate estimates by an architect, the school district found out it was facing a $15 million shortfall and wouldn't be able to complete some projects.

In 2016, the school district brought a $14.9 million bond request to voters, but it was rejected. After that, a citizen's committee was organized in 2017 to tour all school district facilities and essentially start from scratch with creating a list of needs.

In Minidoka County, a $21 million bond failed Tuesday. Even though 61.97 percent of voters said "yes" to the measure, it wasn't enough to clear the required two-thirds supermajority.

"It's, of course, disappointing, but we recognize that it's been a long time since they've had to pass a bond," Minidoka County School District Superintendent Ken Cox said Tuesday night.

Also, some of the school district's bonds aren't paid off yet, he said. Cox said school district officials will work to figure out what the community's concerns are.

The bond would have paid for projects such as front entrance school security upgrades, new classrooms at four schools and a new agriculture facility.

The next steps after the bond failure will be an agenda item during a Monday school board meeting.

In Filer, voters rejected a $9.9 million bond. Again, the majority of voters — 63.42% — said "yes," but it wasn't enough to meet the supermajority requirement.

Bond money would have been used to build a second career-technical building at Filer High School, add classrooms at Filer Intermediate School, improve the parking area and traffic flow at Filer Elementary School, replace seats and lighting at Filer Middle School's auditorium, and for future land purchases as the school district prepares for continued enrollment growth.

"Of course, we're disappointed with the results but it gets us information to move forward," Filer School District Superintendent John Graham said Tuesday night.

With more than 63 percent of voters supporting the measure, it's "in the ballpark" of the 66.67 percent needed to meet the supermajority, he said.

"We need to find out how well we got the information out to the community," Graham said, and what questions and concerns they have.

There are still classroom space issues at the intermediate and high schools that need to be addressed, he said.

A long-range facilities planning committee — which included community members — came up with a 20-year plan for facility needs.

With the "yes" votes Tuesday, "I think that's positive in supporting overall that long-range plan," Graham said, but noted feedback from voters will determine which direction the school district takes.

Elsewhere across the Magic Valley, the Twin Falls School District received 62.41% voter approval to renew its two-year, $5 million annual supplemental levy.

The additional $750,000 annually above what's currently in place will be used to address a few areas: school security, curriculum upgrades (specifically, kindergarten through 12th-grade science, and high school math) and to set aside money to boost the general fund balance.

Final election results for the Jerome School District's renewal of a two-year, $800,000 annual supplemental levy weren't in by deadline at 11 p.m. Tuesday. But with 10 of 12 precincts reporting, 73.36 percent of voters had said "yes" to the measure.

A supplemental levy, which requires a simple majority vote to pass, is used to pay for basic school district operating expenses.

Murtaugh voters decided overwhelmingly — with 77.9% approval — to pass a $2 million bond for an athletic complex, including a synthetic track, new football field, and upgrades such as new bleachers and lighting.

The Gooding, Camas County and Hansen school districts all received voter approval for renewing their two-year supplemental levies in the same amount as previous years: $650,000 annually in Gooding, $300,000 annually in Camas County (a $250,000 annual supplemental levy and a $50,000 annual levy for music programs) and $290,000 annually in Hansen.

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