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After loss by 33 votes in March, the Post Falls School District is trying again at a levy extension

Latah County Deputy Recorder Alexa Kim sets up voting booths on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, at the Latah County Fairgrounds in Moscow, Idaho.   (Geoff Crimmins)
Latah County Deputy Recorder Alexa Kim sets up voting booths on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, at the Latah County Fairgrounds in Moscow, Idaho.  (Geoff Crimmins)

The Post Falls School District will try for the second time in three months to get voters to approve an extension of local property taxes on May 18.

After a defeat by 33 votes in March, the only of the three largest Kootenai County School Districts to lose at the ballot box, Post Falls schools adjusted the language of the measure slightly. They’re still asking for a total of $9.9 million over two years, dollars that are not “supplemental” as the levy title suggests but necessary to continue school functions, Superintendent Dena Naccarato said.

“Our supplemental levy represents 7.5% of our operating budget. The levy is fundamental, not supplemental,” Naccarato wrote in an email.

The need in Post Falls has been made even greater by reductions in state funding during the pandemic and the uncertainty of next year’s K-12 budget, which has not yet been approved by the Idaho Legislature, said Naccarato and Post Falls Schools Board of Trustees Chair Dave Paul.

Opposition to the levy, some of it from the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, has focused on federal assistance the district received as part of the coronavirus relief packages, as well as concern about the subject matter being taught in schools. Brent Regan, chair of the committee, also said the board hadn’t done enough to show that the supplemental levy was necessary to improve student performance, instead focusing on the things that would be in danger if the levy didn’t pass.

“I think the people are tired of those arguments. What they want is performance,” Regan said, saying that if the levy doesn’t pass, the district could come up with other ways to fund the services it deemed essential.

The Post Falls district has seen an increase in its four-year graduation rates every year since 2015, according to data reported to the Idaho Department of Education, jumping from 76% in 2015 to 87.9% in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. Those rates are slightly below the other major Kootenai County districts, Coeur d’Alene and Lakeland, which both have supplemental levies significantly higher in total value than the one requested by Post Falls.

Dollars set aside as part of the December relief package passed by Congress have not yet been made available to the district, Naccarato said, and when they are they will be used to pay for services that could not be covered after the state reduced its support of the district by $1.4 million.

Paul, who’s been involved with the district for a quarter century and whose two sons matriculated there, said much of the public opposition to the levy has come from people who haven’t been in the district’s buildings and seen what the levy dollars support.

“There’s a lot of confusion with regard to the levy, what it’s used for, and all of that,” he said.

Regan noted that several members of the Republican committee have served as trustees on local school boards.

“You’re not talking to people who are ignorant of what the situation actually is,” Regan said.

Paul said 93 of the state’s 115 districts use supplemental local levies to pay for services. In Post Falls, the funding is used for technology purchases, salaries for school nurses and to support the Kootenai Technical Education Campus, which provides high school-level trade education to students, among other uses.

The levy request is an extension, not an increase, Paul said. Tax amounts are collected based on the assessed value of a home, and if Post Falls continues to grow, by keeping the overall levy rate the same, property owners will actually be paying less than they have in recent years, Paul said. The Post Falls levy also is less than the amounts requested by the Coeur d’Alene and Lakeland school districts, where levies passed in March.

Election Day is May 18. Voters who wish to cast an absentee ballot must request one by Friday. Early voting begins Monday at the Kootenai County Elections Office, 1808 N. Third St. in Coeur d’Alene. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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