North Idaho’s two largest school districts will ask voters on March 8 for more money to help maintain operations at basic levels following two years of state budget cuts.
“Just about everything that could be labeled discretionary is now gone,” said Hazel Bauman, superintendent of the Coeur d’Alene School District, which has cut $8.9 million from its budget over the past two years. “We’re really down to people at this point.”
The district is asking voters to approve a $12.8 million-a-year, two-year maintenance and operations levy that would increase taxes by about $68 per year for the average Coeur d’Alene homeowner, Bauman said.
The levy will appear on the ballot in two parts. The first will ask voters to approve renewing the current $7.8 million-a-year levy; the second will ask for an additional $5 million each year. “I’m very optimistic,” Bauman said. “Most of our patrons understand the need. The majority of people, when they hear the story of the cuts we’ve already made, they get why we are raising it.”
The Post Falls School District is asking voters to approve a $2.6 million, two-year levy that would increase taxes by about $12 per year for the average homeowner. That levy is an $880,000-per-year increase, which would replace recently expired federal stimulus funding, said Superintendent Jerry Keane. That federal money helped prevent cuts following the loss of $3 million in state funding over the past two years, he said.
“These are difficult times, and we know our community is having some difficulty,” Keane said. “We’re trying to keep a reasonable proposal in front of them.”
The failure earlier this month of capital improvement bonds in the Mead and Central Valley school districts on the Washington side of the state line concerns both superintendents. However, Bauman said, there’s a difference between those bonds and the district’s regular maintenance and operations levy. Coeur d’Alene voters last rejected this type of levy in 1984, she said.
Support has also been good in the Post Falls district, Keane said, with the last few supplemental levies passing with solid approval ratings. Still, he said, “We’re not taking anything for granted.” The proposal the district put together meets “at least part of our needs … and at the same time protects our community.”
If the levies do not pass, both districts predict cutting staff and programs. In Post Falls, Keane said eight to nine teachers would be cut along with at least 15 support staff positions. “People represent student programs,” he said.
If the entire Coeur d’Alene levy were to fail, Bauman said, the district would have to cut 115 full-time and 162 part-time support staff positions, along with all activities, many supplies and equipment. If only the renewal were to pass, cuts would drop to 23 full-time and 150 part-time positions, along with smaller cuts to activities and supplies.