BURLEY — Continued growth, deferred maintenance and unfinished projects from the last bond are the top reasons the Cassia County School District is asking voters to pass a $56.7 million bond on March 12, officials said.
FILER — More students want to go into Filer High School’s career-technical programs, but there’s not enough building space or teachers.
The Filer School District wants to see that change. It’s taking a $9.9 million bond request to voters in March to pay for facility projects, including building a second career-technical building at the high school.
Offerings such as welding, small engine repair or horticulture could allow students to gain the skills they need to get a good-paying job right out of high school and allow them to pay for furthering their education, said Julie Koyle, a parent who’s co-chairwoman of the Filer School District’s facilities planning committee.
“We’re an agriculture community out here,” she said. “We have kids who could benefit a lot from a bigger tech program.”
The Filer School District is among nine Magic Valley school districts bringing a total of about $103 million in funding requests to voters during the March 12 election.
Idaho school districts have four election dates to choose from each year. A supplemental levy, which requires a simple majority vote to pass, is used to pay for basic school district operating expenses. A bond is for facility projects and requires a two-thirds supermajority vote.
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If voters approve the Filer School District’s bond, it would pay for building a second career-technical education building at Filer High School, adding eight classrooms at Filer Intermediate School, improving the parking area and traffic flow at Filer Elementary School, replacing seats and lighting at Filer Middle School’s auditorium, and future land purchases to prepare for more enrollment growth.
At Filer Elementary School, one of the biggest issues is the drop-off and pick-up situation, Koyle said. When the school was built decades ago, “everyone was bused. Nobody was dropped off.” It’s a headache for parents to navigate, she said.
The auditorium at Filer Middle School has sufficient space for accommodating programs and community events, but needs to be more functional for today’s needs, Koyle said. “We just need to refurbish it a bit.”
Filer has more than 1,600 students. Over the last decade, it has averaged about 3 percent growth each year.
If the bond is approved, property owners can expect their overall tax rate to remain about the same. That’s because the amount owed on the bond for Filer Intermediate School — which opened more than 10 years ago — has been paid down.
A community meeting about the bond is 5:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Filer High School’s library.
The Cassia County School District is bringing a $56.7 million bond to voters to address needs related to enrollment growth, deferred maintenance and unfinished projects from a 2015 bond.
After three failed attempts, voters approved a $36.95 million bond in 2015 to build new schools and complete other projects across the district, which has schools in five communities.
But the district found out later that it was short $15 million to complete all the projects because of bad costs estimates by the architect.
The district went back and asked voters to pass a bond for $14.9 million, which was rejected. A citizen’s committee was organized in August 2017 to tour all the buildings and create a list of needs in the district.
If approved by voters, the bond will provide more classrooms at Burley High School, Burley Junior High School, Dworshak Elementary School and Oakley High School; complete the new Declo Elementary School and demolish the old building; upgrade heating and air conditioning throughout the district; build new gyms at Burley Junior High School and Declo High School; add a new gym floor and connection at Oakley High School; upgrade and expand Cassia Regional Technical Center; build new multipurpose rooms at Dworshak and Albion Elementary; fix foundation cracks at both Raft River schools; provide roof, parking lot and window repairs; furniture and equipment for new classrooms; to purchase land and build a new agriculture science building at Declo High School; landscaping, irrigation and exterior upgrades at some schools; a drop-off at Dworshak; and carpet, paint, restrooms, football bleachers, a practice track and field upgrades at Oakley High School.
The estimated average cost for taxpayers is $201 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
BURLEY — Continued growth, deferred maintenance and unfinished projects from the last bond are the top reasons the Cassia County School District is asking voters to pass a $56.7 million bond on March 12, officials said.
The Minidoka County School District is seeking a $21 million bond to add classrooms at some schools, build a new agriculture building at the high school and make improvements at schools throughout the district.
If approved, property owners would pay $98 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
Bond money would be used for security upgrades across the school district; to construct and equip six classrooms each at Heyburn and Paul elementary schools and West Minico Middle School; build a second gym at Heyburn Elementary; upgrade or replace heating and air conditioning systems at Paul and Rupert elementary schools and Mt. Harrison Jr./Sr. High School; buy land; build and equip an agriculture education building; install a new gym floor and concessions and restrooms at the softball and tennis facilities; and upgrade existing spaces for career and technical education at Minico High School.
Community meetings about the bond are 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday at East Minico Middle School and 6:30-8 p.m. Feb. 26 at West Minico Middle School.
RUPERT — The Minidoka County School District will ask voters to approve a $21 million general obligation bond in March to add classrooms at some schools, build a new agriculture building at the high school and make improvements at schools throughout the district.
The Twin Falls School District will seek renewal of a supplemental levy but will ask voters for more money. The school district will pursue a two-year, $5 million annual measure to help pay for basic operating expenses.
Currently, the school district has a two-year, $4.25 million annual supplemental levy that expires in June. An approximately 20-member budget advisory committee, which includes parents and community members, recommended seeking more money.
If voters approve a new supplemental levy, the additional $750,000 annually would be used to address a few major areas: school security, curriculum needs and an increase to the general fund balance.
Based on a conservative 2 percent increase in market value, property owners would pay $15.82 more per year for every $100,000 in taxable value. But if property values continue to increase, the impact could be less than that.
If market growth is similar to years past, the Twin Falls School District would be able to garner additional funds while “folks may actually see a slight decrease in their taxes,” Superintendent Brady Dickinson said Wednesday during a presentation to the school board. The Twin Falls School District has had a supplemental levy since 2012, which makes up about 10 percent of the district’s operating budget.
“The supplemental levy really supports all programs in the district,” Dickinson said.
Twin Falls School District officials are planning about 40 presentations about the levy at schools and community groups over the next six weeks. A community meeting is 7 p.m. Feb. 25 in Vera C. O’Leary Middle School’s auditorium.
“We recognize this is an important community decision,” Dickinson said.
During his presentation to the school board, he showed a graph outlining the amount of fund balance in recent years.
“As you can see here, we’ve been trending down in our fund balance,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a concern.”
The school district’s auditor has recommended trying to build that level back up, Dickinson said, and he’s concerned about what would happen if there’s another economic downtown.
During the last economic recession about a decade ago, the Twin Falls School District relied on fund balance to weather the storm, he said.
Another priority for the school district is to be more aggressive with updating curriculum — something that’s necessary with the change in state standards, Dickinson said.
The district needs to upgrade science curriculum — which is about 12 years old — for kindergarten through 12th grades, he said, as well as high school math.
Upgrading textbooks is costly, Dickinson said. For example, it would cost $78,904 for new science textbooks just for sixth-grade alone.
During his presentation, Dickinson addressed another area of focus in the school district: school security. It costs the school district more than $500,000 annually to employ six school resource officers and 15 security aides.
“This is a tremendous investment that has been made in the district,” he said.
TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls School District will seek renewal of a supplemental levy in March 2019, but will ask voters for more money.
The Jerome School District is seeking renewal of its supplemental levy but is seeking more money — a two-year, $800,000 annual measure. For the last 14 years, it has relied on a two-year, $650,000 annual levy.
Even though the amount of the supplemental levy hasn’t changed in years, enrollment has increased significantly — from about 3,000 students in 2004 to 4,100 this year, Superintendent Dale Layne said. School officials are anticipating 50-100 more students next school year.
If approved by voters, property owners could expect to pay $12 more annually per $100,000 in taxable value. That’s based on the current market value.
The Murtaugh School District is planning a $2 million bond for an athletic complex, including a synthetic track, new football field, and upgrades such as new bleachers and lighting.
If approved by voters, it would cost $245.82 yearly per $100,000 in taxable value.
The bond’s lifespan would only be five years, Superintendent Michele Capps said. Murtaugh’s bonding capacity is so low, she said, adding school officials want to pay for the track project quickly. That would also allow the school district to pursue a bond for a new high school after that if it’s necessary, she said.
About 80 students are involved in track, but the school only has a gravel track right now, Capps said. Students go to other places to practice and the school can’t host track meets on site.
The school board will have a discussion about the bond during the first 30 minutes of its meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 11. Other upcoming community meetings will be announced soon.
The Hansen School District is seeking renewal of a two-year, $290,000 annual supplemental levy. The Gooding School District is seeking renewal of a two-year, $650,000 annual supplemental levy. Camas County School District in Fairfield will seek renewal of its two-year, $300,000 supplemental levy.
For all three measures, it’s the same amount currently in place and tax rates will remain the same.
*Note: This story was edited Jan. 30 to add information about the Camas County School District's supplemental levy. Details weren't available by the print deadline.
TWIN FALLS — Four years after local controversy erupted over refugee settlement, the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center still faces challenges — this time from a sharp drop in federal funding and lower numbers of incoming refugees.
CSI trustees heard an annual presentation Jan. 28 from the Refugee Center. Here in Twin Falls, the center has resettled and provided services to thousands of refugees since 1980. In years past, it typically received federal approval to take in up to 300 newcomers each year. This year, it’s capped at 140.
“The Refugee Center has gone through difficult times,” director Zeze Rwasama told the CSI board. “Currently, we are going through a period of uncertainty.”
There are two major reasons for that uncertainty: the birth of the anti-refugee movement — which has been defeated, but could wake up at any time, Rwasama said — and a reduction in the number of refugee arrivals allowed in the United States.
Federal changes have “affected our budget, big time,” Rwasama said, because the program is federally funded.
The Refugee Center’s budget for this fiscal year is about $781,000 — a significant reduction compared with $1.3 million in 2016. Gradually, from 2016-18, the center cut seven staff positions and two positions became part-time.
In 2016, the Refugee Center resettled 328 refugees from 10 countries. In 2018, it resettled 91 refugees from three countries — Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Eritrea — and that was well beneath the cap of 195.
“That’s a big shift there,” Rwasama said.
For this fiscal year — which began Oct. 1 — Rwasama said he expects a similar breakdown as last year of where incoming refugees are from. The vast majority are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, and that group made up 89 percent of Twin Falls’ refugee resettlement last year.
The declining number of newcomers has presented a big challenge for the Refugee Center’s budget, he said, and the budget had to be revised multiple times throughout last year.
Federal changes, including a refugee ban in 2017 and stricter security vetting, led to a slowdown in the number of refugees arriving in Idaho and across the United States.
Here in Idaho, there are three refugee resettlement agencies: the CSI Refugee Center and two in Boise. The Treasure Valley used to be home to another agency — World Relief Boise — but it closed in June 2017, largely due to declining refugee arrivals and funding.
In Twin Falls, controversy around refugee resettlement arose in 2015 following a CSI Refugee Center announcement it expected it could receive Syrian refugees. That didn’t happen. But large numbers of community members showed up to CSI board meetings.
Rick Martin, a local opponent of refugee resettlement and head of the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center, ran unsuccessfully for election to the CSI board of trustees and circulated a petition for a ballot measure seeking to ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County, but it didn’t receive enough signatures.
Before Rwasama presented the Refugee Center report during Monday’s meeting, CSI board chairwoman Jan Mittleider asked if anyone had signed up to speak during open forum — a public comment period. None had.
“I’m so delighted,” Mittleider said, and the audience of college employees laughed.
After Rwasama’s presentation, Mittleider asked Rwasama what he’d say if someone wanted to know what they could do to help make the program better.
“There’s nothing better than welcoming the refugees,” Rwasama said, suggesting people greet them on the street or in the grocery store. “That’s all they need. They’ll do the rest.”
CSI President Jeff Fox said he’s impressed with Rwasama’s efforts to educate the community about refugees.
Mittleider said she appreciates Rwasama’s “calmness of spirit” in the midst of difficult times and misunderstanding from others. Some of the finest people on CSI’s staff, she said, came to Twin Falls as refugees.
Despite a drop in federal funding, the CSI Refugee Center hasn’t slowed down in how it’s helping refugees, Rwasama said. It’s also providing more services to refugees who have already been resettled in Twin Falls, he said.
Three weeks ago, the Refugee Center started a youth program for refugee children enrolled in the Twin Falls School District. Children receive homework help through an after-school program, and the offering also focuses on the importance of good behavior and career development.
The Refugee Center has also seen huge growth in its volunteer ranks. Before 2016, it averaged 20 volunteers each year. In 2018, it had 250.
The center has received so many donations of items to help refugee families it doesn’t have storage space left. “Donations are coming left and right every day,” Rwasama said.
Refugee Center officials provided community education in 2017 and 2018 across the Magic Valley, including presentations in Jerome, Filer, the Sun Valley area, Burley, Pocatello, Rexburg and Rigby. Presentations covered topics such as who refugees are, why they’re here, the security vetting process and the services the Refugee Center provides, Rwasama said.
Also, every refugee who has arrived in Twin Falls since 2016 has been assigned to a community mentor, he said, which helps speed up the process of social integration and creates a connection with the community.
During their Monday meeting, trustees also:
Director Mancole Fedder gave an update on the Buhl Head Start facility. The center — built in 1910 — was closed in April 2018 due to a failing foundation and plumbing problems. Currently, 20 West End children receive transportation by bus to Twin Falls for preschool classes.
Fedder said he sent off a request to the national Office of Head Start to sell the Buhl facility based on an appraisal. The program intends to use proceeds from the property sale to buy land. Fedder said they found a piece of land next to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Buhl they’re interested in.
Once land is purchased and a phase I environmental study has been completed, program officials will write a grant for emergency facility funds and submit it to the Office of Head Start.
Fedder said he doesn’t anticipate CSI Head Start/Early Head Start being back in Buhl for another one-and-a-half to two years.
Agriculture department chairman Matt Quesnell gave an update on how a $1.6 million donation to the CSI Foundation for agriculture scholarships is being used.
Two students — each of whom received a $5,000 scholarship this school year — talked about their experiences.
Longtime Reno, Nev.-area rancher Bob Dickenson, who died in 2016, wanted the money to be used specifically for financial assistance for students pursuing agriculture-related degrees. The CSI Foundation was notified in 2017 it would receive a gift from him.
This school year, there’s $82,000 available for scholarships. Nearly $78,000 has been awarded to 62 students.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Negotiators for the U.S. and the Taliban insurgents have reached “agreements in principle” on key issues for a peace deal that would end 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the top U.S. envoy said Monday.
The statement by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad followed six days of talks last week with the Taliban in Qatar, where he urged the Islamic insurgent group to enter into direct negotiations with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Ghani on Monday assured Afghans that their rights will not be compromised in the name of peace with the Taliban, who have been staging near-daily attacks against Afghan forces, causing scores of casualties every week. Their offensive has not let up despite the severe Afghan winter and the insurgents now hold sway over almost half of the country.
Khalilzad said in an interview with The New York Times that an agreement in principle was reached with the Taliban on the framework of a peace deal “which still has to be fleshed out” that will see the insurgents commit to guaranteeing that Afghan territory is not used as a “platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”
He said the deal could lead to a full pullout of U.S. troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.
In his statement released by the U.S. Embassy, Khalilzad said, “We made progress on vital issues in our discussions and agreed to agreements in principle on a couple of very important issues.
“There is a lot more work to be done before we can say we have succeeded in our efforts but I believe for the first time I can say that we have made significant progress,” he said.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he was briefed on the talks and described them as encouraging, but he also said the department has not been directed to prepare for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Speaking before a meeting at the Pentagon with Shanahan, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said any discussion about the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would be premature. He said Khalilzad briefed NATO allies on the talks weeks ago.
“We are in Afghanistan to create the conditions for a peaceful negotiated solution,” Stoltenberg said. “We will not stay longer than necessary, but we will not leave before we have a situation that enables us to leave or reduce the number of troops without jeopardizing the main goal of our presence and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists once again.”
He said he believes it’s too soon to speculate on withdrawal because “what we have to do now is to support the efforts to try to find a peaceful solution. We strongly support those efforts.”
Ghani sought to assure Afghans that no deals would be made without Kabul’s awareness and full participation.
“Our commitment is to provide peace and to prevent any possible disaster,” Ghani said in an address to the nation. “There are values that are not disputable, such as national unity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Ghani’s office said he and Khalilzad met late Sunday in Kabul to discuss details from the talks.
Khalilzad has met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months in the latest bid to end America’s longest war. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to topple the Taliban, who were harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
The statement from Ghani’s office also claimed that the Taliban demanded from Khalilzad the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, but that there was also no agreement on that issue.
The statement added that Khalilzad has no authority to discuss issues such as a future Afghan administration but that his goal is to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, meaning direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul.
Khalilzad tweeted Saturday about progress in the talks in Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office, saying: “Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past.”
“We made significant progress on vital issues,” he tweeted, without offering details.
Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban official and currently a member of the High Peace Council, an independent body of clerics and respected Afghan figures, said he believes the Qatar talks resulted in a “good understanding between both sides” but that more discussions are needed in the coming weeks or months.
“Afghanistan’s problem is not so simple that it can be solved in a day, week or month, it needs more time and more discussions,” Mujahid said.
The Taliban in the past refused to negotiate directly with Kabul — a standing that does not appear to have changed. They maintained that they are prepared to talk with U.S. officials only and only about the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
If you do one thing: The Faulkner Planetarium and Herrett Center for Arts and Science will host a lecture by Robin Sip, writer and producer of the full-dome movie “Mars One Thousand One,” at 8 p.m. in the Herrett Center Rick Allen Room in Twin Falls. Free.
TWIN FALLS — Residents are invited to give public comments tonight on a developer’s proposal to build a four-story hotel on the canyon rim.
The Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission has been asked to make a recommendation on a request to change the development agreement for Geronimo LLC at Canyon Park West. The change would permit a hotel in the development and increase the maximum building height to 60 feet for property at 2151 Fillmore St., between the Petco shopping center and the Twin Falls Visitors Center.
Home2Suites by Hilton has expressed interest in building a hotel at the vacant lot, which was previously planned for more restaurants and retail. The Planning and Zoning Commission is tasked with making a recommendation to the City Council, which makes a final decision, so residents will have one more opportunity to comment on the project.
The Planning and Zoning meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 203 Main Ave. E.
City staff, which usually presents its own recommendations on zoning issues, did not have an opinion on this request one way or another. That’s because the city’s comprehensive plan seems to justify multiple decisions.
“What we have is two parts of the plan that I guess are competing interests,” Planning and Zoning Director Jonathan Spendlove told the Times-News.
On the one hand, the city’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan, “Grow with Us,” specifically shows mixed use at this development on the Future Land Use Map.
“A hotel meets these criteria as it would add another service to a range of services found along a corridor which supports Civic, Commercial, Recreational and Residential uses,” city staff said in its report.
But the Comprehensive Plan also states that development near the Canyon rim should be carefully considered.
“The Canyon Rim is an important feature and viewpoint, a striking visual landscape, and a coveted recreational site,” the plan states. “In order to ensure that the integrity of the Canyon Rim is preserved, a balance between acceptable development uses, and necessary preservation should prevail.”
Spendlove said it will be up to the commission to decide what to recommend as members draw on their own sense of place.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Spendlove said.
The property also has a complex history, in which it appears at one point an eight-to-10-story hotel would have been permitted. The current development agreement does not allow hotels as an outright permitted use, he said.
The city had already received four public comments via email as of Monday afternoon. Most referred to the visual impacts the hotel would have. Spendlove noted that the development can already build a structure 50 feet away from the canyon rim, but the permitted height will be up for discussion.
Twin Falls has an established history of permitting development along the canyon rim. Not too far away from Canyon Park West is the building that’s home to Elevation 486. The 56-foot structure sits atop a retaining wall that’s 10 feet above the Canyon Rim Trail, and its setback from the rim is also 50 feet.
Upon receiving the commission’s recommendation, the City Council will have its own public hearing on the request — likely at the end of February or early March, Spendlove said.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission will have a public hearing for a request to have a special use permit to establish an automobile sales and repair or service facility at 154 Washington St. The business would operate in conjunction with an existing furniture/car upholstery repair business on property on the south side of Austin Avenue.
The commission will also have a public hearing for a request for a special use permit at 1534 Blue Lakes Blvd. N. for automobile sales and repair service facilities. Although Goode Motors already uses the space for a legal non-conforming automobile sales facility, the company plans to expand and remodel the property with a new showroom, additional offices, retail sales area, service drive-through and six new service bays.
Goode Motors plans to eventually move its Mazda franchise to Kimberly Road near Eastland Drive. Its Volkswagen franchise would continue at the newly remodeled facility on Blue Lakes Boulevard North.
BOISE — An attorney for a University of Idaho professor seeking access to public records on drugs used during the state’s most recent executions says the Department of Correction acted in bad faith and frivolously denied her client access to the documents.
Molly Kafka, an ACLU-Idaho attorney representing Aliza Cover, made the argument during opening statements in Ada County’s 4th District Court Monday morning. Cover and the ACLU sued last year, asking a judge to force the state to turn over the documents so the public can assess the suitability of the drugs and how they were obtained.
IDOC attorney Jessica Kuehn told Judge Lynn Norton the state has already given Cover all the records that could be legally released under department rules, and that officials provided her more information that was tangentially related to her request in the interest of transparency. Kuehn said the records that were withheld weren’t subject to release because the Board of Correction has the discretion under state law to exempt the release of records that could threaten security or prevent the department from carrying out executions.
“This is not the proper proceeding to challenge the wisdom of the Idaho Board of Correction,” or the Legislature’s rules that give the board the discretion to determine which execution records may be safely released, Kuehn said.
Kafka said the Board of Correction didn’t actually make any determination that the need for secrecy outweighed the public’s right to know, but rather said the state reflexively denied access to the documents.
She said she would present witnesses including Jeanne Woodford, who carried out four executions while she was the warden of San Quentin State Prison in California and is now an opponent of the death penalty. She said Woodford will testify that reducing the secrecy surrounding executions had no negative effects.
“IDOC is relying on speculation and fear rather than data,” Kafka said.
The case began after Cover filed a public record request with the Department of Correction in 2017 seeking receipts, purchase orders, paperwork and other documents on the drugs the state used in its two most recent executions along with any documents on the drugs it expects to use in future executions.
The department provided her with documents detailing Idaho’s execution policies, but refused to turn over the other documents, contending the information was exempt.
The issue has arisen in court cases around the country as prison officials face increasing difficulty in obtaining the drugs used for lethal injections. Many prison officials fear that revealing where they obtain the drugs will cause their remaining suppliers to dry up. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced in 2016 that it would not provide lethal injection drugs to states, and the following year asked states to return any of the drugs that they had previously obtained.
With most traditional suppliers gone, some states have turned to compounding pharmacies or foreign countries to purchase the drugs.
Increasingly, condemned inmates are also challenging the suitability of lethal injection drugs in court, arguing that the drugs often don’t work as planned and contending that there are no longer any legitimate sources of the drugs available to prisons. Inmates in some states, like Tennessee, have opted for electrocution rather than risk what they fear could be a botched attempt at lethal injection.