Judge mulling arguments in Lake Pend Oreille school levy dispute

SANDPOINT — First District Judge Barbara Buchanan said she will provide a summary judgment in the coming weeks for a legal dispute over a North Idaho school levy election.

The lawsuit contests the result of a November Lake Pend Oreille School District supplemental levy election, the Bonner County Daily Bee’s Keith Kinnaird reported.

Voters narrowly approved a $12.7 million-a-year, permanent supplemental levy. But as EdNews reported prior to the election, the ballot did not include a breakdown of the measure’s cost to taxpayers, as Idaho law requires.

In December, Lake Pend Oreille patron and landowner Don Skinner asked the judge to void the election results and bar the district from collecting property taxes tied to the measure.

“The only reasonable thing to do is rerun the election,” Skinner’s attorney, Stephen Smith, said during oral arguments last week, according to Kinnaird.

Lake Pend Oreille has spent some $60,000 contesting the issue in court, according to documents obtained by Idaho Tax Watch, a local watchdog created in response to the controversy.

Group members question the district’s claims that the apparent violation was a technical error.

“Was this language intentionally left out to mislead voters?” the group’s website reads.

Lake Pend Oreille Superintendent Tom Albertson told EdNews Monday that officials floated the measure in good faith and that the resulting controversy puts the district in a “tough position.”

Some voters still stand by the election’s results, Albertson said, and giving in to demands to redo the process would “rob” those individuals of their votes.

Albertson also echoed a legal argument floated last week by the district’s attorney, Caitlin King, who referenced past Idaho Supreme Court cases to suggest that election statutes become “directory,” rather then mandatory, if invoked after an election occurs.

King also argued that the plaintiff must prove that language omitted from the ballot would have changed the election’s outcome.

Smith called that burden “unwieldy, enormous and unthinkable,” and argued that it would infringe upon voters’ right to privacy, Kinnaird reported.

“We have to do something that makes common sense,” said Smith.

Lake Pend Oreille is not being “fiscally irresponsible” by devoting thousands of taxpayer dollars to fight the lawsuit, Albertson told EdNews. He referenced the district’s insurance policy, which reimburses “up to $50,000” in court costs.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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