January 10, 2011 in City

As funding wanes, school districts look to levies

Post Falls, CdA boards meet tonight to consider options
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Second-grader Hannah Mohammed studies her eyes as she draws a self-portrait during art class at Ramsey Magnet School of Science on Thursday. Budgets in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls school districts have been slashed, and both districts are considering asking voters to increase levies when they come up for renewal.
(Full-size photo)

Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene school districts, like most in the nation, have made tough cuts in the past two years because of a declining economy.

Education officials expect the money problems to get worse as federal stimulus dollars go away and districts deplete their savings.

For both districts, supplemental levies approved in 2009 helped to avoid devastating reductions. Those will be up for renewal in a March 8 special election. The question both school districts’ elected officials will consider tonight: Do we ask property owners for more tax dollars than they are already paying to fill the funding gaps?

“We don’t want to put the burden on taxpayers, but we also need to provide a quality education,” said Jerry Keane, Post Falls School District superintendent. “How do we fill that hole and keep taxes as low as possible?”

Property owners are asked to renew levies every two years in Idaho school districts. The money is used to supplement state funds, and helps pay for a variety of programs, including art, music, athletics, maintenance, technology, transportation and classroom supplies, as well as keeping class size down.

“The levy in the past has enabled the district to enhance its programs beyond state funding,” Hazel Bauman, Coeur d’Alene School District superintendent, wrote in a presentation to the district’s board of trustees. “Due to recent economic conditions, including severe cuts in our state funding, reliance on the levy has changed from supplemental to essential funding.”

The Coeur d’Alene School District’s levy, passed in 2009, was $7.8 million per year for two years; Post Falls’ levy was for $1.7 million. Coeur d’Alene has trimmed nearly $9 million during the past two years. With the loss of stimulus money and one-time savings, the district would need to continue its supplemental levy as well as ask voters for an additional $5 million to maintain the current level of service.

The board of trustees will consider several scenarios at tonight’s meeting to put forward to voters.

• Continue with just the supplemental levy, which would result in a $5 million cut;

• Supplemental plus $2.3 million, resulting in a $2.7 million reduction;

• Supplemental plus $3.7 million, resulting in a $1.3 million cut;

• Supplemental plus $5 million.

Officials will also consider a “menu ballot.” If a voter approves the supplemental levy, then they may vote on the second option for an additional amount, said Laura Rumpler, district spokeswoman.

The supplemental plus $5 million option would cost taxpayers about $2.14 per $1,000 assessed value, officials said. The current rate is $1.51.

The last time Coeur d’Alene voters rejected a supplemental levy was in 1984.

Post Falls has cut $3 million during the past two years. During the next budget cycle, another $900,000 in federal funds will be eliminated, plus the additional state cuts.

“We’ve been able to save jobs that were previously state funded by using federal funds,” Keane said. “Now that money is going away.”

Keane will propose increasing the supplemental levy by $880,000 per year for the next two years – to about $2.6 million, which would increase taxes to $2.71 per $1,000 assessed value. The current rate is $2.58.

Post Falls voters have approved a supplemental levy every two years for the past 25 years.

“It’s not going to fill the hole left by the $3 million cut,” Keane said. “But if we don’t find some money somewhere, we will have to cut additional staff and services and that means fewer services to children.”


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