Basin to take another run at supplemental levy bill

IDAHO CITY — Officials from the Basin School District will take another shot next year at a bill designed to allow school districts to extend supplemental levies.

This year, Basin officials pushed Senate Bill 1061, which failed after it was amended by the House. The bill would have applied to districts that have had voter-approved supplemental levies on the books for at least seven consecutive years. In those cases, district officials would be able to ask voters to consider extending the levy from three to 10 years without requiring voters to go back to the polls every year or two.

Supplemental levies are important because they allow districts to pay for things that state funding doesn’t cover, Basin School Board Chairman Ken Gordon and Superintendent Brian Hunicke said. Basin uses its current supplemental levy to help pay for a school resource officer, student activities, bus transportation to activities, a wellness coordinator, preschool and more.

Superintendent Brian Hunicke

Other districts use supplemental levies to increase teacher pay.

“It’s all those extra things that help,” Hunicke said.

The bill contained a couple of key provisions addressing existing laws for continuous levies, Gordon and Hunicke said.

First, it would remove a requirement that districts seeking to extend their levies certify a levy that is at least 20 percent of the district’s maintenance and operations budget.

Currently, the value of Basin’s supplemental levy is less than 20 percent of its maintenance and operations fund, so the district would not be eligible for a continuous levy unless it asked taxpayers for more money.

“What we don’t want to do is lose trust in the community by asking for more than we need by meeting the 20 percent requirement,” Gordon said.

Second, when it comes to continuous levies, Basin’s bill would have ended continuous levies for an “indefinite number of years” by swapping in the three- to 10-year extension. However, any district that already has an indefinite continuous levy on the books — including Boise, Moscow, Mullan, Blaine County and Lewiston — would be grandfathered in and unaffected by the change.

“The big thing is it’s a win-win for taxpayers and the districts, and it’s not that big of change,” Roberts said.

Written by Gordon and sponsored by Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, the bill initially had strong support. It passed the Senate 30-3 on March 12. But when the House got a hold of it, it tacked on two amendments before passing the amended bill 68-0.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, pulled the bill off the Senate floor and killed it earlier this month after saying he had concerns about the House amendments. One amendment would have required the extended levies to go back to voters for reauthorization if the levy rate increased by more than 3 percent after two years.

The other amendment resulted in the House tacking on aspects of a different, failed bill that had to do with patrons leaving one school district and being annexed into another.

Mortimer told Idaho Education News the second amendment wasn’t germane to the original bill and caused real concern in the Senate.

Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria supported the bill, and hopes Basin officials will bring the new version to the ISBA’s annual business meeting in the form of a resolution that her members can vote on and then lobby for during the 2020 session.

“It would be good for school districts and we certainly support it,” Echeverria said, adding the she was also concerned about the House amendments to this year’s bill.

Gordon said the bill’s failure doesn’t put Basin at a hardship this year, because the district has only had supplementals on the books for six continuous years. The district was acting strategically, he said, in bringing the bill because it expects to put forth a seventh levy to voters in the spring of next year.

Allowing districts to work with their voters to extend levies for three- to 10 years would provide financial stability to districts and help them better weather any fluctuations in state funding, Basin officials said.

A stable budget is a particularly important factor in a small, rural districts’ ability to retain teachers, Basin officials added. Many teachers like small class sizes and personal touches small rural districts offer. But veteran teachers could be likely to look to bigger districts nearby if they feared funding cuts or worried about eliminating programming, activities or increasing class sizes.

“Having a budget you can count on from year to year is very important,” Gordon said.

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