Nampa discusses framework of levy

Nampa levy meeting
For the Nampa School District, the next step will be a public hearing on a proposed levy. That meeting will probably be held in early January. If the district seeks a levy in March, the ballot language needs to be set by Jan. 17.

Nothing is official yet, but all the early signs point toward another Nampa school levy on the March ballot.

And, perhaps, a levy at a little more than $2.8 million a year.

Nampa School District officials held a roundtable discussion Tuesday night, talking over levy options with a selected group of community leaders.

The community stakeholders and interim Superintendent Pete Koehler were on the same page — saying the district should put a levy on the March 11 ballot.

In the past 16 months, Nampa voters approved two levies totaling $7.5 million. One was a two-year, $3.2 million levy approved in August 2012; the second was a one-year, $4.3 million levy that effectively allowed the district to refinance debts. But both levies are expiring in 2014, forcing the state’s third largest district to consider a third levy.

Last week, the Nampa School Board voted unanimously to support another levy in 2014, but didn’t decide how much money to seek — or when to ask for it. The earliest option is March, and that enjoyed widespread support Tuesday night.

“Appeal to the people who care about the greater good, the common good,” said Richard Hagood, a former Northwest Nazarene University president who is co-chairing a committee searching for a new district superintendent. “There are always going to be people who say no.”

Koehler — who plans to step down after Nampa hires a permanent superintendent — made clear that he would prefer taking a levy to voters in March. One reason is tactical; if a levy fails to receive the required majority support in March, the district could rework its proposal. “If we do it in March and we’re not successful, we have time to reload.”

Under state law, school districts can run levies or bond issues on four election dates. After March, the next open date is May 20 — the same date as the primary election, which could feature several high-profile races on the Republican ticket.

Districts could also run levies in August and November, but these elections would come too late to help Nampa write its 2014-15 budget.

Koehler laid out the framework of a possible $2,836,000 levy:

  • The first $1 million would restore five classroom instruction days and two days for professional development and teacher training. This would only cut the district’s furlough days in half, from 14 to seven, but Koehler said he wants to be “realistic” about what might pass.
  • Another $500,000 would restore 10 teaching positions. High schools have been hit hardest by the district’s staff cuts, said Koehler, a former principal at Nampa High School.
  • Another $700,000 would go into beefing up the district’s fund balance. The reserve now sits at $500,000, against a 2013-14 budget of nearly $109 million.
  • The remaining $636,000 would go into technology upgrades and curriculum to support the Idaho Core Standards.

Koehler said there is “nothing magic” about his $2.8 million figure, because he’s not exactly sure what voters will support. But he said his top priority is retaining staff. “I don’t want to buy a lot of junk. I want to hold on to the people that we have.”

While stakeholders supported a March levy, the discussion also had the flavor of a group therapy session. State budget cuts and legislative spending priorities were a recurring lament. Koehler also bristled at the recurring media coverage of the district’s financial mismanagement — pointing out that Nampa student performance was unaffected by the crisis, and saying that other districts were forced to impose similar, or deeper, furloughs.

However, Koehler emphasized that the district will erase its $5.1 million shortfall by the end of 2013-14 — after imposing furloughs and other cost-cutting moves to stop the financial hemorrhaging. “Those mistakes have been taken care of, or are in the process of being taken care of.”

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