Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna wants to eliminate a constitutional mandate requiring school districts to secure a two-thirds majority of voters in bond elections to raise money for facilities.
Luna says the first piece of legislation he will introduce during the next legislative session would lower the majority requirement from 66 percent of voters to 60 percent. School districts could previously choose any date for a levy or bond election. Lawmakers changed that in the 2009 Legislature, limiting districts to four dates a year beginning in 2011.
“I’m not predicting that it will mean that districts will have an easier time,” Luna said. “Quite frankly, with quite possibly seven or eight times more people showing up at the polls, 60 percent is still going to be a high bar to get over.”
Idaho Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said he had previously introduced legislation to amend the state constitution and lower the majority requirement, but there has never been enough support among lawmakers.
Education officials acknowledge they face an uphill battle, but say it’s a necessary step to fund school facilities.
“For 20 years we’ve been trying to get something done,” Genesee Superintendent Dave Neumann told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. “We know the process doesn’t work, and certainly the supermajority is the biggest impediment.”
The consolidation means, theoretically, that voters will turn out in greater numbers, allowing more of the voting population to be represented.
“I really don’t see this as being a real contentious type of debate, but it will be a healthy debate,” Luna said. “… Because we have a larger sampling of the electorate I think it’s fair then to ask to have the supermajority lowered.”
First Luna will have to get the bill past a supermajority of the Legislature – in an election year. If the Legislature signs off, the measure would go to the voters.
School funding elections take many forms, from levies that put the funding burden on property owners to bonds that authorize districts to borrow or bond the money needed to pay for a capital improvement project. The debts are then paid off over a period of years by taxes collected from district patrons.
Levies can be approved by simple majorities, but bonds – which incur debt to the district – require approval from at least two-thirds of voters.