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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Candidates for Coeur d’Alene schools emphasize community trust after recent levy failure

Candidates for a seat on the Coeur d’Alene Schools Board agree the district has work to do to regain community trust, but differ on the best way to make that happen.

Jimmy McAndrew and Mike Stavish, the only two candidates for Zone 2 who agreed to be interviewed by The Spokesman-Review, said this year’s uncertainty surrounding levy passage motivated their bid for school board.

Candidate Yasmin Harris did not respond to multiple interview requests.

A longtime volunteer in district schools, McAndrew began campaigning for levy passage after watching the district’s first attempt, a $25 million perpetual levy, fail.

“I feel like that $25 million is really critical for the school district,” McAndrew said. “And I do think that a lot of folks don’t understand how we’ve gotten to where we’re so dependent on levies.”

Stavish, running on a campaign of trust and transparency, said he originally voted “No” to renew the levy in perpetuity but supported the second ask after researching where levy monies are spent. He endorsed the system of supplemental levies, saying the biennial ballot measure helps the district gauge voters’ opinions of district spending.

“As messy as it all looked, I think it worked as designed. And I’m happy to see that,” Stavish said. “And it got me involved; this was a primary motivation.”

To pass a levy

Though they’ve been successful in every previous attempt in 30 years, the district’s bid this year to renew the levy revealed trepidation among voters to support the tax. Voters turned down the district’s first levy request in March. The district’s second attempt in May passed, allowing the district to collect taxes for two years and accounting for nearly a quarter of their entire budget.

Stavish and McAndrew support supplemental levy renewals, citing benefits all the levy pays for in students’ experience, including extracurriculars and additional staff to keep class sizes down. While endorsement of levies is shared between the two, they differ on strategies to restore trust in the community that taxes are spent wisely.

With a minor in marketing, Stavish thinks the district could employ business-like strategies to better market the levy to voters by communicating clearly what it pays for to entice taxpayers to dig into their pockets. He’d promote diverting more money toward this endeavor, if elected.

“The board needs to recognize the fact that some of the budget needs to be dedicated to communicating with the electorate,” Stavish said.

He would advocate the next levy be smaller, a feat he thinks could be possible through a “dime-stacking” strategy, trimming the fat with small and consistent budget cuts that wouldn’t be felt by students and staff.

“Year over year, it compounds,” Stavish said. “It’s bigger, and it’d be nice to be able to say in 10 or 15 years, the budget has not grown at all, but we’ve been able to trim administrative expenses, things that don’t directly correlate and benefit the child’s education.”

He said he doesn’t yet know where cuts should be made, but he predicts he may be able to cut 3-4% of the administrative budget and divert more funding for teachers and aids.

McAndrew agrees there is distrust from the community surrounding government spending, soured by recent North Idaho College “dysfunction” in which residents watched multiple lawsuits consume taxpayer dollars.

“As a taxpayer, the dysfunction that we have there, I don’t want to see that happen with Coeur d’Alene school district,” McAndrew said. “I got kids in the district. They depend on a lot of those levy funds.”

McAndrew agrees that communication and transparency are foundational to trust, but McAndrew doesn’t think there’s the budget to produce extensive marketing.

“You’re just balancing the budgets that you have, right? Unfortunately, you can’t win them all,” he said. “I’m pretty loud, though; maybe I can help.”

Rather, he’s supportive of the district’s new parent-friendly handbook that explains the $131 million “beast” of a spending plan in layman’s terms.

Academic performance

Stavish said a barrier to improving academic performance is immaturity and lack of discipline in kids, making it hard for them to focus, especially distracted by screens and cellphones. Other than instilling the values of hard work and discipline in students, he said he’d defer to educators in strategies to improve academics. If elected, he would advocate for hardline anti-phone policies for schools and encourage students to close the Chromebook and learn how to think without depending on computing.

“We can put the values in them that, you know, in education and discipline and hard work, produce positive results in your life and you’ll get good grades when you work hard towards them,” Stavish said.

McAndrew admitted there are many areas he won’t know about until elected, but he’s excited for the teamwork with the board in finding strategies to improve academics. He endorsed the district’s newly adopted strategic plan with “laser focus” on student achievement and is excited to follow it if elected.

“I want to see those results played out during my tenure as a trustee,” McAndrew said.

McAndrew argues increased parental engagement will improve academics, which will make levies easier to pass and help fund his budget priorities. Those include academic achievement, lower class sizes and mental health support, which all go towards improving academics.

On her campaign website, Harris lists priorities of student achievement, budget clarity and anti-bullying. In response to a Kootenai County GOP questionnaire, Harris described herself as a fiscal and social conservative, and said her Christian faith is an important influence in her life and actions, a perspective shared by all three candidates.

Harris has the endorsement of the Kootenai County GOP. McAndrew has the endorsement of the North Idaho Republicans of Kootenai County and Citizens for Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, the group behind the Yes! Campaign to pass supplemental levies.