After a rough Election Day, Wilder faces new funding woes

Nearly 100 Wilder students can still attend special education and career-technical classes and alternative high school through a regional program.

For now.

But after the 2018-19 school year, the picture gets hazy. That’s because on Tuesday, voters in this Canyon County district rejected a $250,000 levy to finance these programs for another five years.

Wilder is a founding member of the Canyon Owyhee School Service Agency, a consortium serving five rural school districts in Southwest Idaho. COSSA provides gifted and talented classes, a regional alternative high school, COSSA Academy, and career-technical programs ranging from welding to emergency medical technician training.

But the special education program is the costliest, and potentially, the toughest to do without.

Under federal law, Wilder must maintain its special education programs — and cannot cut the amount of money it spends on special education.

“That money has to come from somewhere,” Wilder Superintendent Jeff Dillon said Thursday.

So, levy or no levy, Wilder still will have to pay for special education — but for years, the levy has provided a clear funding source for the program. And if the district goes it alone, rather than send about 60 students to a regional consortium, its local costs are also likely to increase.

“We save them a lot of money by us doing the services,” COSSA CEO Harold Nevill said.

The district has other options, Dillon said, but they aren’t necessarily attractive. For example, the district could save some money for special education by pulling out of COSSA’s career-technical programs — cutting students off from classes that provide valuable job skills.

About 25 Wilder students take COSSA career-technical classes, Nevill said.

Then there’s the option of running the levy a second time. Dillon isn’t ruling that out, since the demise of the levy would hurt “the neediest kids in our district.”

Dillon and trustees have time to sort things out. Wilder’s COSSA students are covered for 2018-19.

COSSA was founded in 1969. The member districts — Wilder, Homedale, Marsing, Notus and Parma — have covered their share of the costs for years, without any hiccups at the polls.

“This is kind of new territory,” Nevill said.

For Wilder — one of Idaho’s poorest school districts, with a hit-or-miss record of passing school levies — Tuesday was an especially trying Election Day. Voters also rejected a $5 million bond issue. In both cases, the outcome wasn’t even close; both ballot measures received only 39 percent support.

Looking at Tuesday’s results, Dillon said, voters didn’t seem to differentiate between the two proposals. They either supported both measures or, more often than not, they opposed both.

But now, district officials face tough decisions, about the levy and the failed bond issue.

Money from the bond issue would have replaced an undersized basement cafeteria built in 1940. Boys and girls share a single bathroom. Students get 10 minutes or so to eat, then they have to clear out to make room for their classmates. This lunchroom shuffle takes two hours a day.

On Thursday, Dillon did little to hide his frustration. He says the district has tried to keep a promise made during the recession — cutting tax rates as the state restores school funding. Still, critics came after both proposals.

“Education is more than just taxes. We have a responsibility,” Dillon said. “We’re somewhat looked at as an evil entity.”


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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