Schools: Bond is only way to pay

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The Board of Trustees for the Coeur d'Alene School District has directed the Superintendent to run a $32.7 million school bond on Tuesday, Aug. 28 to provide major renovations to five of our most aging schools as well as security and technology upgrades across our district. Supporting this bond was not an easy decision for me to come to but I can tell you in all truthfulness that I do, in fact, support it.

To understand the need, you have to understand the funding that is provided to the district and simply put, there is no money provided by the state for significant capital improvements or building projects. The logic behind this, as I understand it, is that if a community needs a new school or desires to improve the schools they have, the funding for those items should come from that community. Both sides of that argument are persuasive but regardless of which side you would choose, the reality is that the state does not provide funding so we as a community have to find it.

Accepting that, my next step was to assess the need. I spent several months going to every meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee where this bond proposal was developed. The Board directed the LRPC to identify the items in the district's 10 Year Plan that were most critical in order to come up with a reasonable bond amount. Since both the KTEC levy and the bond for LCHS were expiring this year, we further directed the LRPC to develop a scope of work that would be equal to or less than the current levy amount which is $0.42 per $1,000 of assessed value.

As part of doing my homework, I went to a number of schools that would be included in the bond to see conditions and assess the needs with my own eyes. The decision, for me, ultimately boiled down to the condition of these schools which are aging and were not originally built to effectively house the number of students we currently have enrolled. While these schools have shown remarkable academic achievement in some areas, they did not represent an educational environment in which I would want my kids to be housed seven hours a day. I do believe that the learning environment has an impact on student achievement so my support for this bond is about making sure we are a school district that gives all of our students a healthy, safe and quality learning environment.

Lastly, I needed assurance that we were in a position to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money. The Coeur d'Alene School District and School Board have set in place board policy to ensure funds are being spent on projects approved by voters. This is School Board Policy 807 - called the Development and Management of Voter Approved Bonds and SPFLs. Policy 807 puts very tight controls on how levies and bonds are to be handled by the school district. Projects presented to the voters as part of the bond must be accomplished on budget, or they must be reduced in scope. Borrowing funds from future projects to complete projects already in work is now specifically prohibited. Reporting requirements to the Board and to the public are stringent and much better defined. A performance update will be presented to the school board and made available to the public bi-monthly. The district's Long Range Planning Committee, per Board policy, is tasked with executing a communication plan to keep the public informed on each school's renovation status and cost during the duration of the bond.

When I made the decision to run for Trustee for CDA 271, one of my primary motivations was the opportunity to provide good stewardship for our taxpayer dollars. I believe our school district's administration under the leadership of our current school board has created a solid environment for our patrons in which they can trust we are making fiscally responsible decisions. I also appreciate the district's hard work presenting detailed and thorough public information on the bond to our patrons.

Keep in mind as well that for the bond to pass, 66 and two-thirds percent of the voters are going to have to agree with the Board and the School District that this is right for our schools and that we are going to be good stewards of the funds with which we have been entrusted. The timing is right; our local economy will benefit greatly. Jobs will be created and we can keep investing in our school buildings, keeping them up to date and solid for the next several generations of children. This represents good stewardship of our assets.

On behalf of the entire School Board of Trustees, I want you to know we have asked tough questions, done our research and believe wholeheartedly that Borah, Bryan, Canfield, Sorensen and Winton are in dire need of the renovation that this school bond will provide. Tuesday is an important date for our schools and our community.

Tom Hamilton is board chair of Coeur d'Alene School District 271.

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