Coeur d’Alene school board will try to pass levy again as superintendent warns up to five campuses will shutter if it fails a second time
Tue., March 21, 2023
The Coeur d’Alene school board is trying again.
During a special meeting Monday, the Coeur d’Alene school board of trustees unanimously voted to place a two-year levy on the May 16 ballot. If voters approve it, the tax will collect $25 million annually and replace a $20 million levy passed in 2021.
The decision comes after voters last week narrowly shot down two separate levies, both of which school officials said were desperately needed.
One of those taxes would have collected $25 million per year indefinitely – about a quarter of the school district’s annual budget – and paid for teacher salaries, nurses, school police officers and more. That supplemental levy received 49% of the vote, 361 votes shy of the 50% threshold it needed to pass.
The other, known as a safety and maintenance levy, would have brought in $25 million over five years. It would have paid primarily for overdue maintenance on school buildings. For instance, it could have helped replace aging HVAC systems, roofs and plumbing. That tax received 54.5% of the vote, just short of the 55% needed.
If both levies had passed, a homeowner with a $400,000 home would have had a roughly $100 property tax increase next year.
While the school board will try to pass a two-year, $25 million per year levy in lieu of the perpetual $25 million per year levy that failed, the board is giving up on the safety and maintenance levy for 2023.
Coeur d’Alene voters have approved every two-year supplemental levy request since the 1980s.
Superintendent Shon Hocker said calling the levy “supplemental” is a misnomer. It helps pay for teachers, nurses, counselors, bus drivers, custodians and more.
If voters don’t approve it in May, Hocker said the school district will likely have to close four or five of its 18 schools.
“Essentially, a quarter of the schools would need to be shut down,” he said. “That’s the severity of this.”
In addition to closing schools, the district may have to eliminate all sports and extracurriculars, classes that aren’t required by the state for graduation, police officers stationed in schools, mental health staff and nearly three quarters of its nursing staff.
School board trustee Casey Morrisroe called the cut list “devastating.”
“It’s not the school district I want my kids in,” he said.
Eric Davis, the school district’s human resources director, told trustees that the district would have to eliminate more than 300 of its 1,371 employees if the supplemental levy fails.
“The last week, we’ve been in a really dark place,” Davis said.
Morrisroe said he believes many teachers would flee Coeur d’Alene even if they aren’t laid off.
“They are not going to want to work here,” he said.
Trustees Allie Anderton and Lesli Bjerke argued for reducing the levy request from $25 million, although they went on to vote in favor of that amount. All of the trustees agreed they would look to tighten the district’s budget even if the supplemental levy passes.
Rebecca Smith, the school board ’s chairwoman, said she believes the May 16 vote is critical for the entire region.
“The impact of the loss of this money will be felt in Coeur d’Alene for years to come,” Smith said. “It’s more than just a school issue, it’s a whole community issue.”
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