For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: November 3, 2003
State Asks Court to Determine Whether Unsafe Conditions Exist in Challis School District Buildings
(Boise) - The State of Idaho has asked the Seventh District Court in Custer County to determine whether unsafe conditions exist in Challis School District buildings.
If the court determines that there are not unsafe conditions, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden asks that the court dismiss the state's lawsuit against the Challis School District. If the court determines that unsafe conditions exist, the attorney general asks that the court determine if the school district has an adequate plan to eliminate unsafe conditions.
"I'm taking this step in order to find out with certainty whether students in the Challis School District are being exposed to unsafe conditions," Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. "Less than 2 years ago, the school district told the court in Boise that there were serious problems with the fire alarms at Patterson Elementary and Challis Middle School and dangerous concrete conditions at the Challis Middle School. I've asked the district twice if those problems have been eliminated. The first time the district didn't respond at all. The second time the district refused to say whether the problems had been repaired."
According to media reports, the superintendent states that no safety violations exist within the district.
"If that is true, it is pointless to spend school district or state tax dollars on a lawsuit and I will immediately dismiss the complaint," Attorney General Wasden continued. "If that is not the case, I want to work with the district to fix unsafe conditions. I think that can be achieved in Challis, as it was in Midvale, through a cooperative, negotiated settlement."
On September 16, 2003, the state filed lawsuits against the Challis School District and six other school districts that did not respond or provide any information as to the status of their unsafe conditions.
The Challis case is based upon information the Challis School District provided to an Ada County court in 2002. The District told the court that the fire alarm system in Patterson Elementary School needs to be replaced or upgraded, that the fire alarm system in Challis Middle School needs to be replaced or upgraded and that repairs to cement may be needed at Challis Middle School to bring it into a safe condition. The school district estimated the cost of these repairs at $7,000.
The school district additionally listed many other plant facilities "needs" such as remodeling the Stanley Elementary School, rebuilding a bus garage at Clayton School and installing lawn sprinklers at several schools. These items are outside the scope of the state's lawsuit because state law does not consider these items to be "unsafe" conditions.
During the 2003 legislative session, the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 403, amending the Constitutionally Based Educational Claims Act (CBECA). The Governor signed the bill into law on May 3, 2003.
The CBECA was originally passed by the legislature in 1996 to provide a process and a means whereby unsafe school conditions could be identified and fixed. At the time it was passed, the legislature exempted the school districts that were plaintiffs in the school-funding lawsuit, allowing them an opportunity to litigate their issues in court. The Idaho Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the CBECA in an opinion issued in 2000.
Last spring, seven years after the CBECA was passed and without any resolution reached in court, the legislature amended it to include the school districts in the ongoing case, to provide for an educational necessity levy for school districts with unsafe conditions but no available funds, and to phase out the thirteen-year-old lawsuit.
On September 9, 2003, the Idaho Supreme Court ordered the state to implement the "provisions of House Bill 403 within five (5) business days…." The state complied with the Supreme Court's order by asking thirteen school districts that had previously identified unsafe conditions whether those conditions still existed, and, if so, what plan was in place to abate those conditions.
Six of the thirteen school districts provided information that the unsafe conditions had been abated or were being abated pursuant to a plan. Those districts were dismissed from the lawsuit.
On October 23, 2003, the State of Idaho and the Midvale School District entered into a settlement agreement. The Attorney General dismissed the state's complaint and the Midvale School District agreed to make repairs by next fall. The Midvale School District indicated that the necessary repairs would be made by existing staff and with minimal expenditures for materials. The agreement was reached without either party appearing in court.
In addition to the Challis School District, the cases involving Cottonwood Joint School District No. 242, St. Maries Joint School District No. 41, Lake Pend Oreille School District No. 84, Whitepine Joint School District No. 288, and Lapwai School District No. 341 are still pending. To date, none of the remaining districts have notified the Attorney General that the conditions have been repaired or that the district has a plan to repair the unsafe conditions.
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