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What the Boise School District doesn’t want you to know about its charter

What the Boise School District doesn’t want you to know about its charter

Wayne Hoffman
November 30, 2018

Children, come gather ‘round. I have an important lesson to share with you: There will be times in your life when grownups will tell you something is impossible to change, when really it’s just that they don’t want to.

If you attend a public school, that school is part of a school district, and that school is run by a school board. The school board consists of adults who are supposed to make sure the school does a good job teaching students without it costing too much.

To be on the school board, you must get more people to vote for you than anyone else on the ballot. This is called an “election.” In most cases, people are excited about elections because it’s a chance to participate in our system of government called a “republic.” But, sometimes adults don’t want other people to know an election is taking place. So, they’ll schedule an election to happen when people don’t expect it.

That is what is happening in the Boise School District. Elections are being held when people don't normally expect them.

Now, a little background on the district. The Boise School District is so old it was created before Idaho was a state. Thus, the Boise School District is governed by a “charter.” This charter is so special, you can’t read a copy of it on the Internet. You have to order a copy from the school district offices, like you would a rare novel from Amazon.

The charter states the school board election is to be held on the first Tuesday in September in even-numbered years, like this one. That’s usually right after Labor Day. That's a slightly odd day to hold an election.It’s so weird, that most people don’t even know an election is taking place.

As a result, very few people vote in the Boise School Board election. This year, just four percent of registered voters cast a ballot. But just two months later, during the state’s November general election, when races for the Legislature, governor, county commission, Congress, and other positions were decided, almost 67 percent of Idaho voters cast a ballot. People knew an election was going on.

School board elections are usually low-key, and turnout is low statewide. That’s why the Idaho Legislature passed a bill to move school district elections to the November general election in odd-numbered years, when city government elections are held. But not in Boise. In Boise, the school district’s adults say that the charter won’t allow the election date to be changed.

The truth: There nothing magical about the Boise School District charter. There never has been. It’s been changed before. The Legislature altered the charter a dozen times since it was first approved during the state’s territorial days: 1887, 1905, 1907, 1917, 1925, 1929, 1933, 1935, 1939, 1941, 1943, and 1955. The date of the school trustee election has even been moved before, most recently in 1925. The Idaho Legislature meets in January, and there’s nothing stopping it from passing a bill that Boise charter to coincide with the an election when people are actually paying attention.

Why would the school district tell people that its charter can’t be changed when it clearly can? Because the charter comes with a special power that allows the school board to levy a tax on all the property owners in the district. It’s a tax that no other district in the state levies, and so it is special. And if the charter can be changed to move the election, it can also be changed to lower or get rid of the district’s special taxation authority.

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