In Nampa, it’s time for another school levy

The Nampa School District went to the voters less than seven months ago, and 64 percent of them gave a thumbs-up for a two-year, $1.6 million-a-year levy.

But that didn’t bring an end to the district’s financial troubles. In September, the district learned that its deficit was not $2.3 million, but $4.3 million.

So on March 12, the Nampa district will be back before voters, seeking a one-year, $4.3 million levy.

If the levy fails, anything and everything could be on the table for additional budget cuts in 2013-14, interim superintendent Thomas Michaelson said. But with the Legislature still in session — and with the new federal health care law and mandatory federal budget cuts looming as unknowns — the School Board hasn’t tried to sort out the details.

“We can’t be real specific right now,” Michaelson said last week.

Michaelson is part of a transition team trying to sort out the district’s finances. He spent 34 years in the California school system; at three stops, he worked with districts sorting out financial crises. After he retired, he moved to the Treasure Valley— and was in retirement in September, when Nampa’s financial picture worsened, and Gary Larsen stepped down after 18 years on the job. Michaelson took the interim job in November.

Michaelson inherited a budget problem rooted in a series of accounting errors, dating back to 2010-11. The district double-counted some federal and state funds and overestimated revenues coming in from other sources. These errors were carried over from one year to the next, compounding the problem. Making matters worse, these errors were carried over into the 2012-13 budget, contributing to the $4.3 million deficit.

Michaelson points out that an outside auditor looked into the problems and found no criminal intent, just human error. But meanwhile, the district also points out that the employees responsible for the errors have resigned.

In seeking a second levy, the Nampa district says this proposal will not increase taxes. The district would refinance the bond issue voters approved in 2007, and using the $4.3 million in savings to cover the levy. Even with the refinancing, the district’s bond would be paid off in 2025, instead of 2026.

In a letter in Tuesday’s Idaho Press-Tribune, Mayor Tom Dale went to bat for the levy.

“A ‘yes’ vote will not increase the taxes we pay to support the schools. It simply allows the Nampa School District to restructure its finances to give some breathing room and help balance the budget.”

More info: In this YouTube video, interim Superintendent Thomas Michaelson makes Nampa’s case for the March 12 levy election.