In 2008-09, 61 Idaho school districts were using supplemental levies to help backfill their budgets.
In 2013-14, that figure had climbed to 94 districts.
Those numbers — demonstrating the increasing reliance on levies — come from Eric Heringer, a public finance managing director with Piper Jaffray & Co. in Boise.
Heringer is no stranger to school financing issues. He has helped the cash-strapped Nampa School District restructure its bonds, and his firm is currently providing guidance to the Twin Falls School District, as it takes a $73.86 million bond issue to voters in March.
Bond issues and plant facilities levies are the bread-and-butter financing tools used for building construction and maintenance. Since the state plays a very limited role in paying for school facilities, it’s up to districts such as Twin Falls to take property tax proposals to the voters.
Through the economic downturn, the number of districts with building-related debt has remained virtually stagnant. Eighty districts had bond issues in 2013-14, down from 81 in 2008-09. Fifty-one districts had plant facilities issues in 2013-14, unchanged from 2008-09.
That all stands to reason. Bond issues, in particular, are long-term financial arrangements. So the number of districts with bond issues is unlikely to change quickly, in response to the recession.
But supplemental levies run only one or two years. While some districts have been running and renewing supplemental levies for years, other districts clearly responded to declining state K-12 budgets by asking local property owners to make up the difference.
Already, the Meridian School District is talking about seeking a renewed levy in 2014, and the Nampa School District will go to voters with another levy sometime next year. (The Nampa district will meet with stakeholder groups Tuesday night to discuss its plans; the meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at district offices, Dec. 17, 619 S. Canyon St.)
More reading: Want to see historic supplemental levy trends in your school district? Click on Idaho Education News’ data center.
A whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former Nampa School District official appears likely to miss a June trial date.
Lawyers for former district accountant Danielle S. Sisayaket are seeking a wide array of financial records, bank statements and journal entries as possible evidence, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported Friday.
“The two sides agreed to work out which set of documents the district would turn over in the coming weeks, and (District Judge Bradly) Ford said he would make a judgment from there whether the rest needed to be released as well,” according to the Press-Tribune.
Sisayaket claims she was fired in September 2011 because she raised concerns about the mishandling of district money. The district is now digging its way out of a financial crunch brought on by a series of accounting errors; the district’s shortfall had topped out at $5.1 million.
Nampa is one of at least three large school districts looking at supplemental levies or bond issues in 2014, as we reported Wednesday.
But Nampa is something of an outlier, if only because of the financial crisis that has gripped the district for the past couple of years. Voters have approved $7.5 million in levies since August 2012, to help mitigate the need for even deeper budget cuts.
Both levies are expiring, and the Nampa School Board will go back to voters sometime in 2014 seeking a new levy; the date and the amount have not been determined.
In Thursday’s Idaho Statesman, reporter Bill Roberts looks at the prospect of a third levy — especially in the context of the much-publicized financial bungling that left the Nampa district $5.1 million in the hole.
“A supplemental levy, in some respects, is a vote of confidence or no confidence in the sitting board,” said Brian McGourty, a trustee re-elected to the board in May. “I don’t like having to go back to the public this early. … I don’t know whether there is another alternative.”
Here’s a link to Roberts’ article.
The superintendents identify themselves as members of the Southern Idaho Conference — a throwback to the times that their meetings focused on hashing out football schedules.
These days, the superintendents are taking on more substantive matters — such as how to test students to the new Idaho Core Standards.
On Tuesday, we broke the story about how Treasure Valley school officials are urging the state to rethink an online exam tailored after the new core standards. The state Education Department says it plans to stay the course, but Superintendent Tom Luna will meet with the superintendents on Dec. 20.
The superintendents support the Common Core standards. But they have a long list of concerns with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam, which the Education Department wants to field-test across the state this spring. Mountain Home district Superintendent Tim McMurtrey wonders if his students have the computer and keyboarding skills to handle this online exam. Emmett’s Wayne Rush is worried about finding adequate computer access, especially in his more rural grade schools.
But in an interview with four of the superintendents Tuesday, classroom time emerged as the galvanizing issue.
The Boise School District piloted the SBAC exam in a few schools last spring, Superintendent Don Coberly said, and it took longer than expected. So the superintendents aren’t convinced third- through 11th-graders will be able to finish the exam in eight hours, as the state predicts.
Coberly says he has had concerns about the SBAC assessment for some time; in a May interview with Idaho Education News, he said the state should ease into the testing. But the more he has learned about the time commitment, the more he is convinced the state should change course.
The superintendents have suggested a plan B: a less time-consuming multiple choice test for third- through eighth-graders, and using the Scholastic Aptitude Test to assess 11th graders. The SAT is a college-placement exam, and it is not synced with the new Common Core standards in math and English language arts. But it does at least measure college readiness, says Coberly — and that, after all, is the bottom-line objective of the Common Core standards.
To no small extent, this comes down to a power struggle between the Education Department and some of the state’s most populous school districts.
The Southern Idaho Conference includes the state’s three largest school districts — Meridian, Boise and Nampa. But it’s a diverse group of nine districts, including rural districts such as Middleton and Emmett. With a total enrollment of about 106,000 students, the districts account for roughly 38 percent of Idaho’s overall K-12 population.
That’s a considerable bloc. And it will be interesting to see if other districts, large or small, voice their opposition to the SBAC exams.
Meanwhile, the Education Department has thrown its muscle behind the SBAC, and is no bit player in the 23-state exam rollout. Idaho is a governing state in SBAC, meaning it has a vote in the rollout of the exam. Luna Chief of Staff Luci Willits is one of seven members of SBAC’s executive committee — and a staunch advocate of the exam the districts want to put on hold.
Rush recognizes that state officials may be unwilling to budge on their assessment plans, for fear of losing face. “I don’t even blame them.”
But superintendents are encouraged that Luna is willing to hear them out, and are curious to see where the discussion goes. “Is there room for compromise here?” Vallivue Superintendent Pat Charlton said.
Gov. Butch Otter addresses an audience of legislators and lobbyists at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference Wednesday. (Photo from Betsy Russell, Spokane Spokesman-Review.)
(UPDATED, 7:15 p.m., to correct Cathy Holland-Smith’s job title.)
Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed budget could come up short of funding state schools superintendent Tom Luna’s spending plan for K-12.
That would mean the governor’s budget would not fully fund ideas from the governor’s own education reform task force.
Otter teased out a few details of his budget Wednesday, speaking to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho’s annual meeting in Boise. Otter said his budget proposal is near completion, and it would include a revenue increase of 3 to 3.5 percent.
Otter didn’t delve into details — and probably won’t for the next 26 days. He will release his budget proposal on Jan. 6, the first day of the 2014 legislative session.
But here’s why the 3 to 3.5 percent revenue increase is significant.
In November, Cathy Holland-Smith of the state’s Legislative Services Office told key lawmakers that it would take a 5 percent revenue increase to cover all 2014-15 agency budget requests, including Luna’s K-12 budget plan. Building the budget based on more modest revenue forecasts would leave the Legislature with that much less money for agency requests.
Luna is seeking a 5.4 percent increase for K-12. This proposal was built around funding a down payment on the task force’s 20 recommendations — including a teacher salary ladder, reversing recession-era cuts to school district budgets, and “technology devices” for all Idaho students.
The total bill for the task force recommendations runs $350 million or more. Otter and Luna say they support all 20 recommendations, but neither of them say the state can afford to put them in place in one year. Otter has suggested a five-year rollout.
Luna’s budget proposal takes an incremental approach to the task force’s two most costly recommendations. It would put $42 million toward a career ladder plan with an overall pricetag of $253 million, and $16.5 million toward erasing $82.5 million in district operations budget cuts.
As for how much Otter wants to put in these specific programs — or into public schools in general — those answers won’t come for nearly a month.
The ATI conference is an unofficial prelude to the legislative session. The conference’s noon speaker is Lt. Gov. Brad Little.
The race for secretary of state is, ahem, heating up, with Phil McGrane making a novel entrance.
The deputy Ada County clerk is launching his Republican bid at 5 p.m. today at the Ada County Courthouse. And he’s planning to give out free barbecue, which stands to reason; as the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reports, McGrane is a competitive barbecue chef.
McGrane also lists support from nine county clerks and Ada County’s three Republican commissioners.
So here’s your up-to-the-minute rundown of who’s running to succeed the retiring Ben Ysursa. McGrane joins state Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale, who has already announced his run. Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, a Boise Republican, has named a campaign treasurer; that’s a precursor to a possible run. State Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, is considering the race. So is Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise.
The secretary of state is Idaho’s top elections official, and one of five members of the Idaho Land Board, which sets endowment land policy that affects public school budgets, to the tune of $31.3 million annually.
The Nampa School District and teachers have failed to reach terms on another contract issue: how best to distribute one-time money for teacher professional development.
Teachers wanted the money distributed in a manner that would support a salary increase for eligible instructors, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported. District negotiators balked at using one-time dollars to fund an ongoing salary increase.
With that, an all-day mediation session Thursday ended without an agreement. And Nampa will distribute about $317,000 in stipends to teachers who take part in voluntary professional development this spring, district spokeswoman Allison Westfall told the Press-Tribune.
This isn’t the first financial impasse between district and Nampa Education Association negotiators. In June, the two sides could not reach an agreement on a plan to reduce the cash-strapped district’s shortfall, so district officials imposed 14 unpaid furlough days in an attempt to cut $2.6 million in spending.
Here’s Thursday’s statement from the Nampa School District:
The Nampa School District and Nampa Education Association ended a negotiation session with a federal mediator today without reaching agreement on the use of one-time professional development money from the state, which by law must be focused on Idaho Core training.
The district will move forward with its plan which includes paying stipends totaling about $317,000 to teachers who participate voluntary professional development this spring.
“We reached agreement on a vast majority of items during negotiation sessions this year,” said Pete Koehler, superintendent. “The use of this professional development money is restricted by state law. The good news is that even though we didn’t reach agreement with the union, all our teachers will have the opportunity to earn additional money by participating in this opportunity.”
The professional development plan is part of the district’s differential pay plan that also includes more than $600,000 in bonuses that can be earned when schools reach goals identified in plans teachers help create. The district’s differential pay plan was approved in September by the Nampa Board of Trustees and approved by the Idaho State Department of Education.
The district and association have been in negotiations since May and had reached tentative agreements on several items, but without reaching agreements on pay, a master contract has not been finalized.
More twists and turns in the saga of the 2014 Snake River Canyon jump — an event, ostensibly, that is supposed to result in a $1 million or so windfall for public schools.
‘Big Ed’ Beckley
The Twin Falls City Council is being asked to take another look at its agreement to work with Texas stuntman “Big Ed” Beckley. Last month, the council granted Beckley access to the city-owned canyon launch site, used by Evel Knievel in his failed 1974 stunt. Reo Development Group, another bidder for access to the launch site, wants the council to revisit the issue at its meeting tonight, reports Kimberlee Kruesi of The Times-News in Twin Falls.
The link between this municipal issue and state education funding is not much of a leap.
Beckley won a state auction on Sept. 27, securing a two-year lease for the state-owned landing site on the north rim of the canyon. He has already paid the state $943,000, money that will go straight into the public school endowment, and public schools would also get a cut on broadcast and event revenues from the leap.
But the leap is contingent on Beckley securing city permits as well.
Kruesi also reported recently that Beckley threatened to sue, if the Twin Falls City Council selected another bidder.
“Beckley Media followed the City’s directive in good faith, and expended huge sums of money, time and effort to become the only applicant to obtain the State lease,” Beckley said in a memo to Twin Falls City Hall. “After obtaining the lease and permission from the State, Beckley Media learned that the City has changed its position and is considering awarding the permit to applicants who do not possess the State lease the City directed Mr. Beckley to obtain.”
Three days after Idaho Democrats touted A.J. Balukoff as their party’s candidate for governor, here’s an interesting campaign tidbit from the Associated Press.
In 2008, when Walt Minnick successfully ousted Republican Rep. Bill Sali, Balukoff’s name appeared on a list of 60 “Republicans for Minnick.”
According to the AP, Balukoff didn’t vote in 2012 GOP’s primary election, which is now open only to registered Republicans.
Balukoff is a 16-year Boise School Board member, but that is a nonpartisan elected post. Balukoff has never run for any other political office.
The AP story comes after Republican Gov. Butch Otter and his main primary opponent, state Sen. Russ Fulcher, both threw jabs at Balukoff’s links to the party of President Obama. In response, Balukoff issued a statement Thursday, chiding Otter for playing the partisan card:
“I saw that Gov. Otter noticed our amazing campaign kickoff (thank you everyone for the great start). His spokesman immediately launched the same, tired, false partisan attack that makes Idahoans so frustrated with politics. I understand why they feel threatened, though: Our campaign is about bringing Idaho values like honesty, hard work, respect, fairness and financial responsibility back to the Statehouse. More partisan attacks aren’t going improve our schools or help hard-pressed families make ends meet. We need a governor who will be independent enough to do the right thing, regardless of party. That’s how I have been able to get results as a businessman, an education leader and a community volunteer.”
Months after the case of Tim McDaniel drew national and international media attention, the case is now closed.
In March, four parents had filed complaints against the veteran science teacher in rural Dietrich High School; one complaint focused on McDaniel’s use of the word “vagina” in a sex education class.
The state’s Professional Standards Commission “determined that there were not sufficient grounds upon which to pursue discipline,” Education Department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told the Times-News in Twin Falls Thursday.
Nonetheless, McDaniel told The Times-News that he won’t teach about the human reproductive system in biology class this year. “It’s sad because the kids need it, but I don’t need the headaches,” he said.
Here’s a link to a previous blog post on the flap.