Most of the time in the United States, the majority prevails when an issue is voted upon by the electorate. But, in Idaho, a significant exception to majority rule occurs when a school bond is on the ballot.
On May 19, voters in Bonneville Joint School District (consisting primarily of the area immediately east and north of Idaho Falls) voted down a $56.1 bond measure to build a third high school – by 17 votes out of nearly10,000 votes cast. The measure drew 6,645 votes in favor and only 3,347 votes against.
But, the “no” side won. Article VIII, Section 3 of the Idaho Constitution provides that “[n]o . . . school district . . . shall incur any indebtedness, or liability, in any manner, or for any purpose . . . without the assent of two-thirds of the qualified electors thereof voting at an election to be held for that purpose . . . .”
In the May 19 District 93 vote, the affirmative votes were 66.5% of the voting electorate rather than the required 66.67%.
Disctrict 93 Superintendent Chuck Shackett told the Post Register, "It's just so close, that's what's so sad. It's like, you're kidding me, 66.5 percent of people want this and we can't have it."
The measure was proposed to address a student boom in the District which has stretched two high schools, Bonneville and Hillcrest, to the limit. The two schools have stretched their space by adding 20 or so trailers but there is considerable concern about fundamental student safety given the extreme crowding. The proposed new high school was designed to resolve the problem and accommodate future growth.
If passed, the bond repayment would have imposed a cost of $4.92 per month per $100,000 of a property’s taxable value (or $59.04 per year).
A recount has been requested of 22 of the 24 precincts by supporters of the measure. But, few expect the results to be overturned.
This is third time that voters have turned down bond measures in the District, the most recent an identical version in March that failed narrowly, 4,829 in favor to 2,519 against (or 65.72% in support). An earlier, more ambitious version in March of 2014 for $92 million fell far short.
Opposition was led by a vocal local group that distributed campaign materials and signs. Spokeswoman Halli Stone released a statement afterwards claiming "[t]he district has bullied, lied and scared patrons into thinking the world ends tonight.” She believes other options are possible, but supporters are skeptical.
Superintendent Shackett indictates that the likely future is split sessions where some students will go to school 6:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m and others will attend another session from 1:00 p.m till 7 p.m. each weeknight. Many are concerned about the impact on families who have students in both sessions and the impact on extra-curricular activities. The proposed start date of split sessions is the 2016-17 at the earliest or 2017-18 school year at the latest.
Last Thursday’s Post Register editorial discouraged District 93 from running another attempt in August of this year, as suggested by some. The publication notes that the window to get a new high school open for the 2018 school year has passed and the community needs time to recover from the back-to-back campaigns.
Some believe the threshhold itself is flawed, noting that Idaho is one of only two states (Kentucky is the other) that require a 2/3 vote for a school bond. The provision has been in the Idaho Constitution for over 100 years.
Ammon City Councilman, GOP activist, and Idaho Falls attorney Sean Colletti is trying to encourage Idahoans to push Idaho legislators to propose an amendment to the Idaho Constitution to lower the threshhold to a lower supermajority of 60%. He believes that will still impose a significant burden on future supporters of such measures, but will not make passage impossible when there is intractible opposition.
Such an approach was encouraged by former Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne and former Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and is backed by the Idaho School Boards Association.
But, such would require a 2/3 vote from both the House of Representatives and the State Senate of the very anti-tax Idaho Legislature (while Idaho voters, if the measure were on the ballot, would only have to favor such a measure with a simple majority vote).