The Unfinished Stories of 2018 

We sought out some of the stories of 2018 that will cause a splash in the new year

When the Great Idaho Potato drops in front of the Capitol on New Year's Eve, people will rightly feel like they've hit the reset button. "Things will be better in 2019," they'll say. The optimism of a new year almost wills itself into being, but the fresh start that lives in Boiseans' hearts doesn't extend to everything. The big, kitchen-table news items will still be there. Days before the clock strikes midnight on 2018, we've compiled a list of the stories that will stick around for 2019.

Medicaid Expansion

click to enlarge - A massive, statewide effort put Medicaid expansion on the November ballot. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • A massive, statewide effort put Medicaid expansion on the November ballot.

In November, Idahoans voted overwhelmingly to expand the government insurance program Medicaid after a months-long push for signatures on the part of Medicaid for Idaho. The grassroots effort sought to close the so-called Medicaid Gap—the 35,000 Idahoans whose incomes were too high to qualify for Medicaid under its current structure, but too low to afford private insurance.

The vote was a sharp rebuke to Idaho legislators, many of whom objected to expansion on the grounds that it would be an acquiescence to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Though it was largely opposed by Republicans, Rep. Christy Perry (R-Nampa) became a figurehead for expansion after hearing from her constituents about the desperate need for the program.

"By the time [my constituents] talk to a legislator, they have nowhere to go," she said, on site when petition signatures were delivered to the Idaho Statehouse-.

Voters may have weighed in on Medicaid expansion in 2018, but the fight will continue—and even intensify—in the coming year as legislators enact their will. Meanwhile, the conservative think tank Idaho Freedom Foundation has filed suit against the State of Idaho in an attempt to block the expansion on the grounds that it grants unconstitutional power to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. Oral arguments before the Idaho Supreme Court are slated for Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

The 2018 Midterm Elections

click to enlarge DIANA LACHIONDO
  • Diana Lachiondo

Though it was overshadowed when the U.S. House tipped to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms, the turnover on the Ada County Commission will have dramatic and far-reaching effects on the Treasure Valley. Democratic challenger Diana Lachiondo, formerly Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's director of community partnerships, upended incumbent Republican Jim Tibbs' bid for re-election. She has a long record at City Hall, where she worked with other agencies, governing bodies and nonprofits, particularly on the issue of homelessness.

The other big winner on the commission is Democrat Kendra Kenyon, who defeated Republican Sharon Ullman. A Ph.D. in organizational and leadership development with a slew of accomplishments under her belt, Kenyon's priorities are growth management, transportation and the environment in Ada County. Open spaces, growth and the mounting costs associated with homelessness will likely be at the top of the new commission's agenda.

Tensions have run high in the past between leadership in Ada County and the City of Boise. In the last few weeks, the Commission released an open letter chastising the Boise City Council for its role in the collapse of an arcane arrangement that connected funding for magistrate court services, healthcare provider Terry Reilly and the newly constructed New Path Community Housing facility. Under new leadership, it's likely the relationship between Ada County and its largest city will warm noticeably.

ADARE MANOR

click to enlarge ERSTAD ARCHITECTS
  • Erstad Architects

If there are two words that raise the hairs on the back of every Boisean's neck, they have to be "affordable housing." Houses in the North End neighborhood that once sold for under $100,000 now get snapped up by cash offers of greater than half a million—a remarkable change for the historically working-class neighborhood. The cost of housing has risen across the city, and some have asked what, if anything, the City of Boise is doing to ameliorate the situation, particularly for people in and near poverty. A big part of the answer is also two words: "Adare Manor."

For years, the city has actively tried to divest itself of its housing stock. Adare Manor follows that pattern, but with a twist. Early in 2018, the city leased a parcel to Thomas Development for $1 per year, waived certain impact fees and provided program funds of up to $2,000 per unit of affordable housing, in exchange for 134 units of mixed-income housing. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association greased the wheels for approximately $18 million in tax-exempt bonds and pitched in $1.2 million in HOME Investment Partnership Program funds.

Conspicuously missing from the funding and development equation has been money from state and federal sources; nevertheless, Adare Manor is expected to be completed by late 2019, and it's poised to be a set piece in the citywide conversation about affordable housing.

A New Superintendent for the Boise School District

Dr. Don Coberly has presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the history of the Boise Independent School District. When he came onboard as its superintendent in 2010, the district was reeling from budget cuts during the Great Recession, jobs had been slashed and class start times were staggered to save money on transportation.

That all changed in 2012, when Coberly and the district appealed to voters for an education levy, and again in 2017 when they asked for a $172.5 million bond, which was approved by an astounding 86 percent. Now, the BSD boasts of some of the finest public schools in Idaho, as well as a generous teacher pay schedule of $37,000 per year for first-year teachers, up to $70,000 at the top. Outcomes for students under Coberly's tenure were well above state averages. In 2017, BSD's high school graduation rate was 82.9 percent (the state average was 79.7 percent), and its college go-on rate was 54 percent—9 points higher than the state average.

click to enlarge Dr. Don Coberly (left) and Coby Dennis (right) - BOISE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • Boise Independent School District
  • Dr. Don Coberly (left) and Coby Dennis (right)

In late 2018, Coberly announced he would step down as superintendent at the end of the 2018-19 school year, and shortly thereafter, the district board of trustees announced his replacement: Deputy Superintendent and longtime BSD hand Coby Dennis, who will officially take the reins on July 1, 2019. In the same announcement, the BSD said Dennis' current position will be filled by Lisa Roberts, area director for the Borah Quadrant and a 26-year BSD veteran. Both Dennis and Roberts have been with the district for decades, and their ascensions will likely bring stability to the top of its organizational chart and project strength as the district looks forward to the 2019 Idaho legislative session.

Correction: In a previous version of this story, we wrote that the U.S. Senate tipped to Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. In fact, it was the U.S. House. We regret the error.
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