Nampa faces complex levy decisions

Before asking them for their take on a possible school levy, interim Nampa school Superintendent Pete Koehler walked community stakeholders through a series of unknowns.

Pete Koehler
Interim Nampa Superintendent Pete Koehler
  • One perennial unknown, Koehler said Tuesday night, is the cost of employee health insurance. Historically, premiums have been increasing by about 8 percent a year, and they now run about $8 million.
  • Then there’s transportation. This runs about $5.4 million a year, but the district’s current bus contract expires this summer.
  • School security is another question mark. Koehler isn’t sure how much the city will continue to spend on school resource officers. City Council member Bob Henry won a hard-fought race for mayor last month, ousting incumbent Tom Dale, and property taxes were a central issue.
  • The latest federal budget compromise will affect special education and Title I programs.
  • One big unknown is the 2014 Legislature. Gov. Butch Otter last week said he would propose a 3 to 3.5 percent increase in the state budget in 2014-15, and Koehler said he’s expecting about a 3 percent increase. This would equate to about $2 million for a district with an overall 2013-14 budget of close to $109 million. A 3 percent increase would basically fund the status quo in Nampa schools, Koehler told community leaders.

Not surprisingly, the community leaders encouraged the Nampa district to press on with a levy — and as soon as possible. No decisions were made Tuesday night, but the early signs point to a levy election on March 11 — the earliest date Nampa can schedule a vote.

Consider Tuesday night’s discussion a sneak preview of the debate over a levy. If Nampa proceeds with a March election, district officials won’t know exactly what to expect from the state — both in terms of funding and in terms of new mandated programs. Districts are shooting somewhat in the dark, based on their best guess of how the state budget will stack up.

And Tuesday night’s discussion also sets the stage for another Statehouse debate: How far will the 2014 Legislature go to restore “operational funding” to school district budgets? State superintendent Tom Luna wants a $16.5 million increase, a first installment aimed at reversing $82.5 million in recession-era cuts dating back to 2009. It’s unclear how much Otter will put into operational funding, but it doesn’t appear his proposed budget will fully fund all of Luna’s requests.

Some superintendents are already clamoring for more operational money, and immediately. This is money districts can use to cover any number of items — including the insurance and transportation costs that factor into Nampa’s levy decision.

(More reading: Read more about a possible Nampa levy, and where the money might go.)