August 28, 2013 in Idaho

Voters OK school tax levy, reversing deep cuts

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Voters in the Plummer Worley School District on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation approved a two-year tax levy Tuesday that will spare the district from eliminating funding for all athletics, moving to a four-day school week and making other severe budget cuts.

About 60 percent of the votes cast were in favor of the $1.1 million supplemental levy request. The tally was 561 yes to 374 no.

“Needless to say, we are ecstatic,” Superintendent Judi Sharrett said.

The cash-strapped district of about 400 students had eliminated all sports funding, cut kindergarten to part time and ordered three furlough days for all employees, and it was ready to cut one day off the school week starting this fall.

In a special meeting this morning, the school board voted to reinstate funding for sports, full-day kindergarten and a five-day week.

“Everyone is working really hard to get ready for kids to start back to school on Tuesday morning, and the district office is scrambling to ensure the public is notified regarding returning to a five-day calendar,” Sharrett said.

The district has been the only one in North Idaho without a property tax levy to make up for steep cuts the Legislature has made in public education spending.

The Plummer Worley district also relies on federal dollars from the Impact Aid Program, which accounts for Indian lands that are not part of local tax rolls. But that money also has dwindled.

The district’s state and federal support has fallen 33 percent in seven years, from $4.3 million to $2.9 million this coming school year. The district has shaved $2 million from its budget since 2007, Sharrett said.

“And we’re a small district, so that’s a substantial amount for us,” she said.

The district tried to establish a supplemental tax levy in May but only had 45 percent of voters supporting it. After that, the school board agreed to the severe budget cuts. In response, the community had begun private fundraising to support the football, volleyball, basketball, track and golf teams.

Art and other elective classes also were cut, and the district put off buying new textbooks badly needed for upper grades and replacing broken surveillance cameras.

Going to a four-day school week would have saved about $90,000 a year, primarily in classified salary cuts and reducing transportation, utility and food service costs. Teachers and students would have spent longer days at school, and many families would face additional child care costs for the weekday off.

Property owners will pay an additional $116 per $100,000 taxable value per year.

The district employs about 45 teachers at its two schools: an elementary school for prekindergarten through sixth grade, and a secondary school for seventh through 12th grades.


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