School panel studies levy request

When it comes to the question of building or remodeling schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District, it’s not a question of if – it’s how soon and how much.

The district’s long-range planning committee affirmed this Monday during its first meeting of the school year. Consisting of parents, principals and district administrators, the committee will spend its next few monthly meetings prioritizing school construction projects and deciding whether to ask voters for funding next year.

“If this committee would feel that the timing was right, that would be a good year to run a school plant facility levy,” said Hazel Bauman, assistant superintendent.

The committee will make a decision in the next couple of months on the amount and timing of the levy. What to ask for and how to present it drove Monday’s discussion.

“Keep it simple, be inclusive, listen and plan ahead,” said Dave Patzer, outgoing chairman of the committee, summarizing the discussion.

After voters defeated the district’s last school construction levy in March 2006, a consultant’s report recommended the district simplify what it was asking for – the defeated levy called for $40 million to build a new Lakes Middle School, a new elementary school, renovate or replace Winton Elementary and renovate Borah Elementary – be more specific about the projects and address opposition that arises, Patzer said.

One recommendation said to remember that asking for two levies at the same time invites defeat of both. An ongoing two-year levy that funds school programs was renewed and increased this year, making next year an off year. But if the district is going to run another tax levy or bond next year, the decision needs to be made soon, officials said.

“The sooner, the better. We have to fundraise for the campaign. We have to organize for the campaign. January would be pushing it,” Bauman said.

And when the campaign begins, the district needs to be more vocal about correcting misinformation, officials agreed.

Though remodeling or rebuilding Lakes seemed to stay at the forefront of the agenda, the committee steered away from asking for many projects all over town in favor of a smaller project list. That, members said, would help prevent rising construction costs from pushing projects off the list after voters approved the money, as happened with money set aside for Lakes in a 2002 construction levy.

“Our credibility on our construction side of things is definitely fragile right now,” Bauman said.

The district has $4.5 million left over from that levy for Lakes – the rest of the money earmarked in the 2002 levy went to increased construction costs for the other projects like the expansion of Ramsey Elementary.

But that touched on what committee members will be discussing for the next few meetings: Do they scale back to one or two projects and fall further behind on major school building needs, or do they ask for several and increase the chances of defeat?

“We can’t completely run so scared that we pare it back so much that we never catch up,” said Scott Fischer.

The district long enjoyed success with construction levies, he said, and “that bubble was probably bound to burst at some point. Now we need to at least let the voters know that we learned from that and we’re coming back.”

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