COEUR d’ALENE — The opportunity for Coeur d’Alene School District to have a voice in the ever-expanding concerns about growth blossomed Monday as government officials, private developers and educators met in a summit.
The meeting, which took place at North Idaho College, brought together 24 community leaders to acknowlege the challenges the school district faces as the population rises.
“I think it’s a start to what we’re hoping for,” Coeur d’Alene School District Superintendent Dr. Steven Cook said. “I think just the dialogue — just having the ability to talk through some of these issues — is a great first start. Ultimately, it’s up to the constituants and voters to decide how they provide a quality of life for our children, but this will hopefully begin the process of getting people to think about how growth affects our schools.”
The summit provided a venue for representatives of Kootenai County, the city of Coeur d’Alene, the city of Hayden, the Idaho Legislature, real estate developers, engineers and the school district to come together and discuss challenges and strategies for factoring swelling student populations into the larger growth equation. The group discussed matters ranging from bond funding to affordable housing to utility burdens to land development.
As the cities of Hayden and Coeur d’Alene continue to grow, the population of school-age children naturally rises, which in turn places a burden on local schools to accommodate incoming students. Cook and other school leaders have advocated in the past for Coeur d’Alene, Hayden and Kootenai County to consider the population increase while weighing new developments, while at the same time scrambling to plan for future student needs.
“We have educators going out and negotiating land deals,” Cook said. “That’s not a promising prospect.”
“This was definitely a positive meeting,” Jimmy McAndrew, vice chairman of the community group CDA 2030 and moderator of the summit, said. “Everybody’s busy this time of year, so to get four entities to the table, it was definitely a win.”
The meeting was a first step in a push to weigh the impact of growth to the school district into the cities’ comprehensive plans. The next step involves determining the hurdles ahead, including the ability to use emergency funds for building construction and legislative language that could empower school districts moving forward. Dialogues and ideas, everyone agreed, should continue.
“I don’t think we can only look toward what’s worked in the past,” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said. “I think we have to look at every avenue to determine the best path to move forward.”
Diane Zipperer, project engineer for J-U-B and former school board member, said she was optimistic of the school district’s pursuit but said all parties must remain vigilant.
“Just to bring communities and schools together is important,” she said, “but we have to make sure we’re including schools in the process all the way through. I think everybody involved has to have a common voice in this to make it work.”
Concerns over the use of portables, future school locations in relation to future growth areas, real estate restrictions and incentivized land donations were all brought to the table, giving participants an opportunity to voice their organizations’ particular concerns.
“This is a good room full of people to get some issues solved,” McAndrew said. “I’m confident we can get this done.”