For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: May 5, 2003
Attorney General Takes Steps to Ensure Safe Public Schools
(Boise) - The State of Idaho took the first steps today to implement a new law that will eliminate any remaining safety problems in public schools and conclude a 13-year-old lawsuit.
"This new law makes it possible for the state and the school districts to work in partnership," Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. "Our common objective should be simple: when school starts next fall, no Idaho child will attend an unsafe public school."
The Attorney General's Office filed a "Notice of Suspension of Proceedings" in the Fourth District Court in Ada County. The notice, filed pursuant to recent amendments to the Constitutionally Based Educational Claims Act, suspends the existing public school funding lawsuit for 8 weeks to allow the parties to focus on how to eliminate unsafe conditions.
Attorney General Wasden said his office and the Division of Building Safety would send a letter to each of Idaho's 114 school districts within the week. The state will ask each school district to identify any remaining unsafe conditions; the district's plan to eliminate safety hazards; and whether the district has or can obtain money to abate safety problems. The Attorney General said that while only a few districts put on evidence relating to unsafe conditions, the state wants to ensure that it has a complete picture of school conditions and that every school district has an opportunity to address safety issues.
"It's time to put the past behind us. The state and the local school districts can now work together to ensure that any unsafe conditions are promptly eliminated," Attorney General Wasden said. "My staff and the Division of Building Safety will work cooperatively with the school districts to help the districts identify any safety problems and get repairs made. I'm interested in sending kids to safe schools, not in engaging in lawsuits."
The new law allows parents or the state to ask a local judge to determine if local schools are unsafe. It gives the local judge the authority to assess safety conditions and determine whether the school district doesn't have enough money to make safety repairs or whether the district is not using its available funds efficiently. After certain factual findings are made, the judge is authorized by law to order an educational necessity levy to abate unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
"By the time the lawsuit reached its final hearing, only 6 school districts presented evidence of unsafe conditions. Several of those districts have repaired many problems since the hearing. Other districts have passed bonds or plant facilities levies to repair safety problems, utilizing state interest subsidies provided by the legislature," Wasden said. "It appears from the court record that there are actually very few remaining unsafe conditions. Possibly the most important element of the amended law is that it creates a new environment in which the state and a school district can be partners, rather than adversaries, in ensuring that unsafe conditions are eliminated."
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