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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After levy fail and school closure, West Bonner School District launches endowment fund

James Hanlon, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Jul. 5—To make up its budget shortfall, a North Idaho school district is asking for donations.

The West Bonner County School District has launched two charitable accounts for general education and extracurricular activities with ambitions to raise more than $1 million in coming weeks.

While activity fundraisers are common, it is unusual for a public school district to solicit private donations to fund basic education.

Special Education Director Kristina Kenny, who leads the district’s fundraising and grants committee, said she believes this is the first initiative of its kind in Idaho.

“This could be a game changer for how schools could still operate when their levies fail,” Kenny said.

Community members suggested the idea when the school board was considering closing up to three schools last month. After lengthy discussion, the board decided to just close the junior high.

Managed by Innovia Foundation, the West Bonner County School District Fund has a goal of raising $1,073,800 by the end of August. That would pay for some of the items the district had to cut after its $4.7 million levy failed in May. The priorities are curriculum, a school resource officer, two buses, nine staff positions, technology and facility maintenance.

Allison and Ken Hagman made an initial $10,000 donation as seed money to establish the fund, Innovia CEO Shelly O’Quinn said.

Donors can choose whether to contribute to the long-term endowment or earmark their contributions for immediate use, which is what the district encourages so it can meet the needs of the current school year. Payments can be made by credit card online at, by check or through other assets by calling Innovia.

If the fundraiser falls short of the goal, the administration would allocate the available funds with school board approval, board Chair Margaret Hall said. Any money beyond the $1 million goal or money donated after August will be invested into the endowment, which will earn interest for future school years.

A separate fund for sports and extracurriculars has a tighter deadline.

Organized by the Spartan Booster Club and managed by STCU credit union, the activities fund aims to raise at least $150,000 by July 17 to guarantee funding for the year. Athletic director Alex Zepeda estimates the district can raise an additional $133,000 through player fees, concessions, ticket sales and other revenues.

The activities fund launched a few weeks before the Innovia fund and as of Tuesday, it had raised $27,000. That figure does not include an anonymous donor who has pledged to match up to $75,000 and Priest River Development Corporation, which is matching up to $50,000.

The activities fund will help equally pay for junior and senior high school sports, and extracurriculars like music, drama, yearbook, leadership and honor society.

Kenny said she hopes these fundraisers bring the community together rather than sow further division.

The district endured political turmoil over the past few years through debates on school funding, superintendent turnover and the successful recall of two board members who had campaigned against a previous levy. Former Superintendent Branden Durst is a former education policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an influential libertarian organization noted for its opposition to school bonds and levies.

Privatizing education is just what some who opposed the levies had wanted.

But the fundraisers give community members more choice over their contributions. Some who voted against the levy are voluntarily donating to one or both of the funds, Kenny said, because they appreciate the choice.

Others have pledged to donate what they would have paid for the levy.

Unlike a property tax levy, donations to these funds are tax deductible.

Parent Kylie Hoepfer said most people are focusing on the activities fund since the education fund has more time. The community is stepping up and area businesses have planned fundraisers of their own.

“It sucks that we are in this position,” Hoepfer said. “This is just a Band-Aid.”

The fundraisers could be used as an excuse by voters to not support future levies, but it could also help bring awareness to the district’s needs, Hoepfer said. Generosity could diminish over time.

“We definitely need to get a levy passed next year,” Hoepfer said.

Kenny said it is an open question whether this is a long-term solution, and it is risky to fully depend on because it is not a guaranteed source of revenue.

Hall said she thinks the endowment can complement levies and state funding to provide critical long-term support that strengthens the district.

James Hanlon’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.