School districts in Bonner and Boundary counties are banking on levies to avoid closing classrooms and cutting programs next year.
On Tuesday, Bonner County will ask voters for a $995,000 supplemental levy, while Boundary County will float a $490,000 maintenance-and-operation levy for a third time.
Bonner County needs the cash to fix four schools with dilapidated roofs. The water damage at Priest River Elementary School is so bad the district is considering closing six classrooms if the problem is not fixed.
Superintendent Max Harrell said water has seeped into light fixtures and electrical wiring, creating a safety hazard.
“It’s not about aesthetics, it’s about student safety, and we obviously have some concerns,” Harrell said. “If the levy doesn’t pass we may have to move students and classes into the cafeteria or gym.”
About $850,000 of the levy is earmarked for roof repairs at Priest River, Farmin-Stidwell and Washington elementary schools, and Clark Fork Junior and Senior High.
A leaky roof at Washington Elementary has weakened a cinder-block wall and could cause serious structural damage if it is not repaired, officials said. The remaining $145,000 from the levy would buy books and other classroom materials.
“That comes to about $25 allocated to each student. We are not talking about a lot of money,” Harrell said. “We haven’t put a lot of hype out about this either. We think the levy is real straight-forward.”
The district already has made cuts in its budget to avoid tapping taxpayers. Athletic programs were slashed 10 percent, and no money was set aside for across-the-board salary increases for teachers. The purchase of new buses also was postponed and existing buses will have to service several routes.
Boundary County also is facing serious cuts if its levy fails. The district needs the money to support current programs and general operation of the district.
If it fails, the school board plans to freeze teacher salaries, cut educational programs and slash the budget for extra-curricular activities, possibly going to a pay-to-play program, officials said.
More than 300 residents recently placed an ad in a Boundary County newspaper supporting the levy. But another group, the Boundary County Property Owners Association, is railing against the levy proposal. The association suggested the superintendent and principals take a cut in pay instead of freezing teacher salaries.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TUESDAY The polls in Boundary County are open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., while in Bonner County voters can cast ballots from noon until 8 p.m. Both levies need a simple majority to pass.