John Smith once was one of the biggest critics of the Post Falls School District maintenance department.
Like many patrons, he had seen the weeds growing high on the school grounds. He had heard of 3-year-old work orders and pencil sharpeners hanging by threads of tape.
Now, Smith is in charge of the very department he used to say was mismanaged.
“You pay a person a wage, you need to get your dollar’s worth,” Smith said from a desk in the district’s bus barn. “The bottom line is, you’re paid to do a job.”
Smith is making changes to bring more accountability and a sense of pride to his department. But the kind of job his staff can do is dependent on whether he gets money for materials and equipment, he said.
That money is provided through the semi-annual supplemental levy. If voters pass the district’s $500,000 levy in Tuesday’s election, the maintenance department will get $260,000 to help catch up on neglected projects throughout the schools.
“It’s absolutely critical,” Smith said. “That’s the entire maintenance budget.”
The levy also will also pay for three new school buses (The district is trying to replace 25-year-old buses.) and for math and social studies textbooks. Some of the books being used now are so old, they are out of print.
It’s the seventh year the district has relied on a supplemental levy to help with general operations of the school district.
“This is getting to be too much,” said Dee Lawless, a regular critic of school taxes. “We think it’s time for the district to look at their budget, particularly their salary increases.”
Lawless and the Kootenai County Property Owners Association bought a full-page advertisement in the Post Falls Tribune, opposing Tuesday’s levy.
The ad points out huge increases in state funding for education, and a 49 percent increase in property taxes in the last two years for the Post Falls School District.
Most of the ad is devoted to listing the salaries and benefits of teachers and administrators.
But none of the levy money will be spent on salaries, said Sid Armstrong, school district treasurer.
Almost all salaries are paid from state appropriations. Most of the increase in state money went to pay for new positions allowed under the new state funding formula. Three of those positions went to maintenance.
The school is reimbursed for how many staff are needed based on the school district’s enrollment.
“We increased staffing significantly, but we do not have on staff any more (people) than what we qualify for,”Armstrong said.
As for the increase in local property taxes, about a fifth of the local revenue is used to pay off the bond issue passed in 1992 to build Prairie View Elementary School. And, market value of property in the district increased 41 percent, also boosting school revenue.
As the district’s property tax base increased, however, the proportion of money it gets from the state decreased.
Armstrong and other school officials point out that even with the supplemental levy, the local tax rate to schools will decrease about $1 per $1,000 property value because of a 1995 tax relief law that lowers school district maintenance and operation levies.
Still, Lawless would like to see the staff go without any raises this year and use that money to pay for maintenance, buses and books.
“I’m kind of insulted,” said teacher Peggy Harriman, a union representative. “Teachers have received a 2 percent raise in the last couple of years. In fact, it’s been less than 2 percent … I don’t think that what we’ve received is enough.”
If the levy doesn’t pass, the district can only afford day-to-day maintenance, Armstrong said. Worn, bunched up carpets, water damaged ceilings and other costly improvements will go on hold. The district has been trying to tackle those problems since the mid-‘80s.
The maintenance portion of the levy also pays for the little things, such as filters for school heating systems.
Smith has started a prevention program where filters are vacuumed or replaced on a regular basis. Still, letting them go means risking burned-out motors.
“Those buildings need a lot of help,” Smith said.
“You put hundreds of students and parents in these buildings every day, and the wear and tear is tremendous.”
Smith figures he would need at least $700,000 to tackle all the overdue maintenance projects.
“We’re not as behind as we were,” he said, “but we’re still behind.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Vote Tuesday The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday for the Post Falls supplemental levy election at these locations: Ponderosa Elementary School Post Falls High School Frederick Post Education Center Seltice Elementary School Prairie View Elementary School Pleasant View Community Center Residents may register to vote at the polls.