Why did so many bonds and levies pass so easily last week?

Vallivue school trustees will meet this week to discuss taking a second shot at passing a plant facilities levy.

The district’s 10-year, $20 million proposal fell short of the two-thirds threshold needed to pass — the only school ballot measure that failed in last week’s elections.

“I think that perhaps our levy campaign was too low-key and we need to do a better job of informing our voters of the need for a plant facilities fund,” Superintendent Pat Charlton said Monday.

Still, one talking point from Vallivue’s failed campaign rings familiar. Like many other districts that managed to pass $695 million in bond issues and school levies, Vallivue pointed out that renewing a 30-year-old plant facilities levy would not increase the schools’ property tax rate.

Boise made a similar case for its $172.5 million bond issue, which passed with a whopping 86 percent of the vote. Kuna and Coeur d’Alene each structured bond issues and supplemental levies that fit within their districts’ current tax rates. West Ada went a step further with its 10-year, $160 million plant facilities levy. By scaling back from a $20 million-a-year plant facilities levy, the district promised property tax rates would decrease by $24.54 per $100,000 in taxable value — even with passage of the new levy.

By tapping into rising property values, or restructuring old debts, some districts could fit new projects under their existing tax rate. Meanwhile, many districts simply asked patrons to renew a supplemental levy that was already on the books. So, while voters approved $695 million in taxes for schools last week, they in no way approved $695 million in tax increases. Not even close.

Considered in that context, perhaps last week’s election results should come as no surprise. They square nicely with public opinion, as documented by Boise State University’s Idaho Public Policy Survey, completed in December.

In all, 26.9 percent of respondents listed education as the most important topic facing Idaho today; the economy and jobs came in a distant second, at 17.9 percent. Only 2.3 percent of the 1,000 respondents listed taxes as the top issue facing the state.

Respondents also split on the idea of paying higher taxes to support their local schools; 44.4 percent of respondents said they supported a tax increase, while 49.2 percent opposed a tax hike. This falls within the survey’s margin of error, of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Considering those survey numbers, it could be said that voters behaved in character. They willingly supported local schools — especially when they could do so without increasing their taxes.

Meanwhile, in Vallivue, the plant facilities levy could be back on the ballot as early as May — the second of four school election dates allowed under state law. Charlton says he will recommend a May levy election.

Disclosure: The Idaho Public Policy Survey was conducted by Boise State University. Idaho Education News is housed at Boise State University.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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