Just two districts to impose emergency levies this year

At least two Idaho school districts will collect property taxes — without the need for approval from patrons — to offset the cost of local enrollment growth this year.

The Jefferson County Joint School District will impose a $1.4 million emergency levy on home and business owners within its boundaries, state filings reviewed by EdNews show. The New Plymouth School District will collect $425,000 through the same process.

Emergency levies allow districts to cover increased costs tied to enrollment hikes from the previous year, but there’s a catch. Unlike supplemental levies or school bond issues, growing districts that qualify for an emergency levy may collect the funds through local property taxes without having to put a measure on the ballot.

In short, locals have no say in approving the funds, school boards do.

K-12 trustees in Idaho can decide unilaterally to collect emergency levies — without a public vote — if their enrollments increase. Click here for more on school bonds and levies in Idaho. 

COVID-19 accompanied a sharp drop in emergency levies in recent years, as enrollment declines during part of the pandemic wiped out the need. Only two districts certified an emergency levy in 2020, during COVID’s heaviest impacts on schools. Fourteen districts collected more than $12.7 million through the process a year earlier, a 10-year high.

The method has made a slight comeback more recently. Three districts imposed emergency levies in 2021.

Local enrollment growth is a theme for both New Plymouth and Jefferson County this year.

Jefferson County’s average daily attendance shot up by 241 students from last year, an emergency levy computation sheet from the district shows. State numbers show that the district last year enrolled 6,618.

Jefferson County superintendent Chad Martin acknowledged being only one of two districts to collect an emergency levy this year, despite continued enrollment growth in dozens of other districts across the state. Despite such growth, Martin pointed out that Jefferson County is one of just 26 Idaho districts that does not pad its budget with supplemental levies, which are also collected through local property taxes.

Idaho’s supplemental levy bill has grown for six straight years, with 89 collecting one this year. Go here for more. 

It’s “somewhat risky” to rely on an emergency levy for supplemental expenses, said Martin, adding that if the district doesn’t see growth, it doesn’t qualify. But the district “takes pride in being conservative with tax dollars,” he added, referencing Jefferson County’s lack of a supplemental levy. This year’s emergency dollars will go toward replacing an elementary school roof, school safety measures and other updates that could be funded through a supplemental levy.

Martin addressed potential concerns about his district’s pursuit for an emergency levy in spite of an unusually large amount of new money flowing to Idaho’s schools. A historic special legislative session on Sept. 1 resulted in $330 million in new state funds for K-12.

Some districts pointed to the extra funds as a rationale for shunning emergency levies this year.

“With this historic state investment into public education, the outlook for helping schools with these challenges and providing relief to our local property taxpayers is bright,” West Ada superintendent Derek Bub said in a news release, which pointed out the district could’ve imposed an $8.78 million emergency levy.

School districts across Kootenai County also rejected emergency levies following the special session, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported Tuesday.

Martin expressed gratitude for the windfall of state cash, but added that it’s still unclear how districts will be able to spend their portions of the money.

New Plymouth, which has a $350,000 supplemental levy on the books, reported an average attendance increase of 90 students — a notable increase for a district that enrolled 973 students last school year. Superintendent David Sotutu did not respond to questions about his district’s emergency levy.

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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