Idaho District Tries To Cope Without a High School

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When fire inspector in Arco, Idaho, closed the city's only high school in March, citing dozens of structural and safety violations, district Superintendent Janet Aikele hoped to start immediate renovations.

But after four months and two unsuccessful local bond initiatives, plans to restore the 50-year-old Butte County High School have been put on hold indefinitely, leaving educators scrambling for available classroom space.

Twice voters of Butte County Joint School District No. 111 have gone to the polls, and twice they have turned down $4.4 million bond issues to repair and improve the high school.

The biggest concern for voters was the bond's price tag and its impact on local property taxes.

"I think a lot of people think we're not being square with them," Ms. Aikele said. "I just don't think they believe us.”

In both elections, the measures were defeated by the slimmest of margins. The first one, in March, failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority by seven votes.

Although state law imposes a six-month waiting period between bond elections, the state board of education voted unanimously to grant the district a waiver to reintroduce another measure sooner.

But the second proposal also failed, this time by 13 votes.

The state board last month denied the district's request for another waiver. Without it, school officials will have to wait until November before trying once again to win support for the high school.

Sharing Space

The bond election followed an intensive information campaign that included more than 20 community meetings and publicized recommendations by architects and engineers from Boise and Idaho Falls.

According to state school board member Harold Davis, the farming community's school funding troubles may derive from it foundering tax base.

"You have a tax base in which property owners are not looking at how meritorious the needs are," Mr. Davis said.

The decision to close Butte County High School was made shortly after an electrical fire at the school that took place during an inspection by an Idaho Falls electrical firm. The inspection was one of several requested by Ms. Aikele, who said the building "needed to be closed years ago."

The cost of bringing the building up to code has been estimated at $3.5 million. The bond measures call for making additional improvement to the school as well.

When the high school closed in March, its 250 students finished the year at the district's middle school, taking classes between 6:30 a.m. and noon. Butte Middle School's own students attended from 12:05 p.m. to 5:35 p.m.

Ms. Aikele said that continuing this arrangement in the fall would mean adding 30 to 45 minutes to both middle and high school schedules.

The district recently was offered the use of three portable buildings, which will mean a reprieve from sharing space at the middle school.

The units, each equipped with an air-conditioning and sprinkler system, will be provided by Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies, the chief contractor at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls.

That will be a temporary solution at best, school officials say, because the units are on loan and can be recalled on 30 days' notice.

Vol. 16, Issue 40, Page 5

Published in Print: July 9, 1997, as Idaho District Tries To Cope Without a High School
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