Several months ago I was the crazy man running around Coeur d’Alene dressed as the “YES” man... promoting the passage of the Coeur d’Alene School District bond of $35.5 million. A significant amount of money that would expand and upgrade Lakes Middle School, Coeur d’Alene High School, Lake City High School, Dalton Elementary School and complete smaller projects at Fernan STEM Academy and Hayden Meadows Elementary School. In addition, there were line items to build a new elementary school in the northwest portion of the school district and money set aside for land acquisition to accommodate future growth.
The bond passed by an overwhelming 77 percent! Once again, demonstrating the support the communities of Coeur d’Alene, Dalton Gardens, Hayden and Hayden Lake have for education. My family is proud to have been a part of these supportive communities for the last 40 years!
As positive as I was when the bond and levy passed, today I am concerned by the storm I see approaching. However, unlike the storms that hit Florida, Puerto Rico or California, the “perfect” storm that will hit Coeur d’Alene is man-made. It began with the resignation of the School District 271 superintendent; followed by the resignations of the Director of Finance and Operations and the Director of Communications. Those are key positions that are entrusted with the transparent operations of School District 271 and integral to the successful expenditure of all district funds and specifically, in this case, those allocated to the bond.
Those positions were subsequently filled with highly qualified personnel. However, they are new to the dynamics of our school district and the history of our passing bonds/levies; a precursor to the “Perfect Storm.”
The storm worsens with the limitations of land available to purchase in the northwest portion of the district. Why? The airport manager declared they could not support building a school within .75 miles of the airport due to safety reasons; a land owner who will sell his property to the school district for twice the appraised value; and the fact that School District 271 has not invested in the purchase of land for the last several years.
What now you say? Good question. The Long Range Planning Committee, which I chair, a citizens advisory committee, appointed by the school board, was asked that question on Dec. 11. What are the options?
There are three: 1) build a new elementary school on the existing 6-acre Hayden Center site (now known as NExA), 2) purchase the 7-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Ramsey and Prairie for $1.4 million and build on that site, and 3) pursue an 11-acre site on the northeast corner of Wyoming and Government Way for $1.35 million and build on that site.
Please note that I did NOT list any pros or cons to any of the choices. I will leave that research to those citizens curious enough to ask. However, the financial obligation to the community in the choice of any of these options is in the millions of dollars and will affect the landscape of the district for years to come. The LRPC, in the short time they became aware of the possible options, could not reach a clear-cut recommendation to the school board.
The next scheduled meeting of the school board is on Jan. 8 at 5 p.m. at the Midtown Center. As the chair of the Long Range Planning Committee, I believe it is imperative that the community have an opportunity for input and the LRPC be given more time to study the pros and cons of the options presented. There are some who believe that we need to make a decision quickly for financial reasons. However, a quick decision, no matter the cost, without property clarity is a recipe for disaster. What do you think?
For more information go to www.cdaschools.org and email your school board representative for more information.
Steve Casey is a Coeur d’Alene resident and former Coeur d’Alene High School principal.