March 15, 2006 in Idaho

CdA voters defeat school levy

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

“I really hope the levy passes,” said Phoebe Hruska, of Coeur d’Alene, after voting at Winton Elementary School on Tuesday. A 55 percent voter approval was needed for the $40 million school improvement project with $5.25 million to rebuild Winton.
(Full-size photo)

Voters struck down the Coeur d’Alene school levy Tuesday, breaking a string of successful building measures for the district.

The levy needed at least 55 percent of the vote to pass, but with 15 out of 18 districts reporting, it got 45.4 percent.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” said Superintendent Harry Amend.

Amend said he believes the primary reason the levy “struggled” was the property tax climate in the area.

“Property taxes have increased dramatically in our community. That was the overriding issue,” Amend said.

He’s hopeful that property tax relief is on the way, either through the Legislature or through more tax-paying businesses locating in the area.

The district’s long-range planning committee will regroup after spring break and make a recommendation to the board of trustees on how to respond to the defeat.

The levy defeat means that three older schools in the district will not be remodeled or rebuilt, and a new elementary school will not be raised – at least not in the time frame the district had planned. District officials say the existing schools have antiquated heating and cooling systems, accessibility problems for people with disabilities, and undersized classrooms.

Here’s a breakdown of what the $40 million would have been used for.

“ Lakes Middle School ($17.7 million) would have been the first project undertaken, with an estimated open date for the rebuilt facility in fall 2007.

“ Winton Elementary School ($5.3 million) may have been rebuilt next, or a new elementary school ($7.7 million) may have been constructed first, depending on enrollment figures closer to the time of construction.

“ Borah Elementary School ($5.2 million) would have been remodeled.

“ Instructional technology upgrades ($3.2 million) throughout the district would have been ongoing.

The school upgrades would have been concentrated in the south end of the district, which has a poorer population than other areas, and school officials say the projects are sorely needed. Out of all the elementary schools, Borah has the highest percentage – about 61 percent – of students who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunches. Lakes has the highest percentage among middle schools, at about 53 percent, while Winton’s percentage is about 54 percent.

The levy would have replaced another levy that was passed in 2002 and expires this summer. The property tax bill for the owner of an average-priced home in Coeur d’Alene would have been about $72 more in school taxes for the next four years.

This year, the owner of an average home pays about $272. Next year, that homeowner would have paid $344 to support this levy. Those numbers are based on the average home sale price of $210,913 in 2005.

Besides the property tax opponents, some community members threatened to vote “no” in the election, to protest the presence of a Gay-Straight Alliance student club at Lake City High School, which district and school officials have said they cannot shut down.

Despite the results, many people still voted “yes” on the ballot.

At Lake City High School, 18-year-old Travis Haynes voted for the first time, in favor of the measure.

“I’ve been through the education system, and it’s not that great,” he said.

His friend Chris Bjorkman agreed: “They’re haggard,” referring to the schools. “They’re in really poor condition.”

Frank Pruter, whose grandchildren attend Coeur d’Alene schools, also voted yes.

“It’d be nice if you didn’t have to pay for it,” he said of supporting schools, “but that’s a part of life.”


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