Idaho’s budget crunch trickled down to Coeur d’Alene High School on Monday when 150 students walked out of classes to protest perceived cuts in student activities.
“This is our community. We want underclassmen to have the same opportunities that we had through our four years of high school,” said 17-year-old Ariel James, a senior who helped organize the protest. “They should have everything we had. We’re supposed to live better from generation to generation.”
Student organizers urged their peers to walk out at 12:30 p.m. and protest implementation of a “pay to play” system for school activities. In a flier, students said that despite passage of the supplemental levy April 21, the activities budget would be cut in half.
Voters approved the levy with 74 percent support.
Steve Briggs, the district’s chief financial officer, said the students did not have their facts straight. Though a “pay to play” system was discussed months ago, it is no longer being considered, Briggs said. Additionally, he said, the district’s activities budget will decline from about $1.66 million this school year to about $1.47 million next school year — a cut of about $187,000. As a result, the activity director positions at both high schools will be reduced to half-time, he said. Other cuts will be made, but will not be as severe as described by the students, Briggs said.
The recently passed levy devotes $1.3 million annually to the district’s activities budget. That money remains intact and makes up the majority of the money for activities throughout the district, Briggs said. The final effect of the $187,000 cut will become more apparent after the Legislature finishes its session, he said.
“If the patrons supported it, we needed to make sure they weren’t going to see anything drastic,” Briggs said. “The bottom line is that there’s a lot more emotion to the issue than the facts support. At the end of the day, everything will work out, but it just hasn’t worked out yet.”
CHS student body President Tyler Smotherman said the protest was the biggest and best organized he’d seen in his three years at the school. While some students might not have their facts completely correct, Smotherman said he also didn’t think they were as off-base as the administration might make them out to be.
“My allegiance is to these kids. It’s my responsibility to follow through on the students’ ideas,” he said. “Protesting and dissent, as long as you do it in an orderly manner, is one of the greatest rights we have in America.”