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BCSD superintendent Jim Foudy. Photo credit: BCSD

Aug. 30 school levy vote seeks to upgrade 60 failing BCSD-facility issues, ‘no new toys’

By Eric Valentine

At 8 p.m. on the last day of this year’s first month, smoke and 500-degree heat from a failing HVAC unit of the Wood River Middle School gym signaled something very clearly to school district leadership—how it was time to put out a metaphorical fire to hopefully prevent something worse, like a real one some day.

“It was so old the fail safe didn’t even work,” said Jim Foudy, superintendent of the Blaine County School District. “It happened to be on a night when the school volleyball team was having a practice. If it had happened three hours later, it would have been flames.” 

The HVAC unit at the gym was one of 60 high-priority items (pared down from 100) on a facilities improvement list that a third party generated for the district already last year. Since messaging and timing matters when it comes to elections—especially ones that require 55% voter approval during a housing crisis, amid record inflation, and on the heels of Valley voters rejecting multiple fire district funding initiatives across the last two elections—school board trustees opted to hold the levy vote Aug. 30 rather than back in May. In terms of short-term safety and costs, the trustees’ decision held some risk. In terms of ballot measure success, the trustees’ decision now hangs in the balance.

No New Toys

Specifically, an approved levy would finance $25 million of safety and efficiency upgrades to BCSD facilities. Taxpayers would be charged an additional $34.90 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. And, given a few different variables, such as the new housing starts not yet on the county tax roll, Foudy said the $34.90 amount is an overestimate.

“I can guarantee it will be less than $34.90,” said Foudy.

If there’s one message district leaders could make most clear it’d be the idea that the 60 items on the list are not ‘shiny new toys.’ Rather, the items are like the middle school gym’s HVAC—equipment that is, in some cases at least, old and failing and should have been replaced already. This is not a bond or levy aimed at putting a new football turf under kids’ feet but rather a repaired roof over students’ heads.

During a roughly 45-minute interview between Foudy and Wood River Weekly, the superintendent noted how a failed roof or a fire to an HVAC system at one end of the district is not necessarily constrained to just that end of the district. If one section of one campus is ever shut down, it could mean an impact Valleywide. Students would have to be distributed across campuses, as would human and other resources that operate the local schools.

Lessons Learned

Foudy, a self-described ‘fiscal conservative,’ is in just his second year as superintendent. Yet, he finds himself in the midst of, perhaps, the first reason he was selected for the job. Trustees made no secret of the fact that Foudy led a successful bond effort at his former McCall-Donnelly School District where the high school and elementary school shared one 1950s building. He pared down the bond from $60 million to $25 million while still meeting capacity goals and got it to pass. By just six votes.

“You can’t just know you have a (facilities) problem, you have to communicate it,” Foudy said. “And you have to make sure it’s measurable.”

Foudy said when he looks at potential levies and bonds—tax increases to district property owners—he asks himself two basic questions first: Who is it helping? Who is it hurting?

“It’s a math problem,” Foudy said. “We think about people on fixed incomes. We look at projects (like converting to LED lighting) that actually save money and, over time, pay for themselves. I’d rather spend some money now rather than more money later.”

Whole Lotta Levy Info

Election

Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022

Voters may cast their ballots at their usual polling locations.

For voting information: www.co.blaine.id.us/196/Elections

For absentee and early voting, please visit VoteIdaho.gov.

Details

55% voter approval required

If approved, the levy would provide the district with a total of $25 million to fund safety improvements and key maintenance projects.

5-year, non-recurring levy expiring at the end of the 2026-27 school year

Maximum $34.90 per $100,000 of property value

Tools

Improvement Project Spreadsheet: Tinyurl.com/BCSDlevy

Levy Calculator: BlaineSchools.org/domain/1406

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