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Idaho Voices

Districts look to local levies to mitigate state-level cuts

Lakeland, Kellogg schools seek higher taxes to maintain existing programs

Lakeland School District officials are hoping a proposed $3.25 million, two-year supplemental levy will help plug a budget shortfall, ensure existing programs stay in place and avert a “crisis” in the northern Kootenai County school system.

With the current supplemental levy – a $1.95 million, two-year measure that passed with 76 percent approval – expiring this year and state funding slashed by about $2 million, a supplemental levy is needed now, said Tom Taggart, the district’s director of business and support services.

“Between the two, we’re almost $4 million short,” Taggart said. “This school district does an excellent job and we’ve got good data that shows our schools consistently performing higher than the state as a whole. We want to keep doing that, so what we’re asking voters for is an amount that would continue the programs we have – buy the textbooks, buy the supplies – and just keep doing what we’re doing. No new programs and nothing expanded.”

The proposed levy would raise taxes by about $48 on a home with an assessed tax value of $180,000. It would provide funding for textbooks, library materials and technology support, while continuing programs for at-risk students as well as for advanced students. The school board approved the measure in March, and on May 18 the voters will decide. A simple majority is needed for levy passage.

Even though the previous levy passed with broad support from voters, school officials know the new measure isn’t a certainty in the current economy. That’s a harsh reality that districts throughout the region are struggling with, including Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, though most of the other districts’ two-year levies won’t expire for another year. Voters in the Silver Valley on Tuesday approved a two-year, $2.78 million levy for the Kellogg School District.

“We know it’s going to be tough, but we believe we have good, solid support,” Taggart said. “It’s a tough time. Our school board really struggled this year with increasing the amount.”

However, even if the new supplemental levy is approved by voters, the school district will have to cut about $850,000 from the budget over the next year.

The additional cuts will be made to salaries, benefits and discretionary funds, Taggart said.

Lakeland Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells said school officials know it’s a tough time to turn to taxpayers. But with an almost $4 million hole in next year’s operating budget for the 11 schools in the Lakeland district, the levy committee and school board members had to look to outside funding before deciding to alter existing programs drastically.

“It’s such a difficult time to go to our community. Everyone is just getting slammed” Ranells said. “But in order to preserve what we have, and continue to achieve the excellent educational results that our district is known for, we need to go to our patrons and ask them for some help.”

Ranells added that the surrounding communities have always been supportive of the Lakeland school system.

“We have amazing parents involved every single day with our children, and I think that’s a huge reason why we do so well academically,” she said. “It’s no one’s fault that the economy took the downward spiral it did. But because the funding from the state is dramatically cut, we are facing a crisis.”

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