Overcrowding continues to be an issue at schools in the West Ada District.
District spokeswoman Char Jackson says for the past five years, the district has seen an almost 2% increase in enrollment every year, with the exception of the 2020-2021 school year, which Jackson attributes partly to the pandemic.
In 2010, Meridian had just over 75,000 residents. By 2020, the city grew to 117,600.
Enrollment at Meridian schools kept up, which is why Jackson says this ‘steady growth’ comes as no surprise.
“We are looking at that historical data and we know that our growth is going to continue at that 2% or higher likely as we progress down the road,” she said.
The district considers Star, S Meridian, and NW Meridian ‘hotspots’ because of an influx of school-aged children in those areas. Jackson says these parts of West Ada are being closely monitored for capacity issues and says portable classrooms can be added to campuses if necessary. Students can also be transferred to less crowded schools nearby.
Bonds and impact fees
Currently, West Ada does not have the funding for more schools. Impact fees or bonds could help. Impact fees are paid for by property developers to help offset the impact the new development has on infrastructure. Idaho law allows local governments to charge impact fees on new developments to pay for public facilities, and as KIVI reports, public schools do not fall under that category.
“We may be able to ask for a lower bond, for example, if we had some impact fees that could go toward the buildings and kind of mitigate some of the costs that we would have to go out to the public and ask for,” Jackson said. “So we would certainly be in favor of impact fees.”
Without a change from the legislature, the district may have to rely on getting a bond to address overcrowding. However, bonds are not easy to attain in Idaho, either. The State’s constitution requires a supermajority for a bond to pass, or 66.7% of the vote.
At the moment, Jackson says no elementary schools are over capacity. If that happens in the future, she says boundaries can be redrawn, portables can be added, and students in English Language Development and Gifted groups can be transferred.
In secondary schools, capacity is based on the recommended number of students the architect gives the district for a classroom. Currently Mountain View High is overcapacity. Jackson said they can mitigate this through sharing classrooms, but they haven’t had to do that yet.
In 23 years, West Ada has opened 25 schools. Its newest, Owyhee High School, will likely reach capacity in two to three years.