March 12, 1997 in Nation/World

North Idaho Districts Join Education Suit

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Post Falls and Kellogg school districts have joined a lawsuit against the state, hoping to wrest more money for buildings and basic education.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to resort to these tactics,” said Brad Corkill, chairman of the Kellogg School Board. “But it’s a reality.”

Both boards voted on the issue Monday night. More than 20 other districts have made the same decision. In the Panhandle, they include Bonner County, Boundary County and St. Maries.

A 4th District judge will hear the case in November. Plaintiffs are members of the Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunities.

The lawsuit aims to:

Get state support for building and upgrading schools. The districts will propose that the state pay 30 percent of construction costs and establish statewide bonding authority. That would cost the state an estimated $35 million a year.

Eliminate the need to rely on supplemental levies for basic operating expenses. More than 50 districts, many of them in North Idaho, regularly go back to voters to ask for more property tax money to keep lights on, buses rolling, and teachers paid.

Provide the “thorough” education promised by the state Constitution.

Bob Huntley, the Boise lawyer representing the districts, pulled out the Constitution on Tuesday to read the exact passage. It’s Article 9, Section 1:

“The stability of a Republican form of government depending mainly on the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of Idaho to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

State lawmakers routinely say they’d like to give more money to education, but the money simply isn’t there.

Huntley expects up to 50 of the 112 districts to join the cause. He first filed the suit in 1990 at the instigation of the Moscow School District and others from the Palouse. They were looking for a remedy to crumbling schools and constant pleas for more property tax dollars.

“It’s the only remedy we’ve got,” said Huntley, a retired state Supreme Court Justice.

He hopes the judge will give lawmakers one more session to come up with more money - then do the job for them if they refuse.

The lawsuit has bounced back between the state Supreme Court and 4th District Court in Boise.

Plaintiffs have come and gone.

Kellogg and other districts agreed to drop out of the suit in 1994, when the Legislature revised a state aid formula to provide additional cash for schools.

Larry Curry, Kellogg’s superintendent of schools, said Tuesday that he had no choice but to recommend that the district return to the legal fray.

“We got back in primarily because nothing has been done about the facilities issue,” Curry said.

A legislative report four years ago estimated the backlog of school construction expenses at $700 million. The small Kellogg district alone needed $8.2 million to bring its buildings up to code, the report concluded.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in more than 30 states. Favorable verdicts in Arizona and Wyoming have heartened David Neumann, president of Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunities.

“We are optimistic,” said Neumann, superintendent of the Genesee schools.

Neumann recently invited all of the districts to join in the effort, which involves paying a $1,000 assessment.

Said Curry: “Mr. Huntley believes he can run this suit through to the end for approximately $120,000. If most of the districts get in, it won’t cost anybody that much.”

Some school boards don’t want to join because they don’t like the idea of taxpayers suing taxpayers, said Jack Hill, superintendent of Moscow schools.

Hill was delighted to hear that Kellogg and Post Falls had signed on. “We have got to stand together in support of public education.”

, DataTimes

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