Schools receive $6 million infusion of federal funding

The Mountain View School District is facing a shortfall, lawsuits, administrative turnover and a bitter deadlock over teacher contracts.

The embattled north-central Idaho district did get a little help recently, via Uncle Sam.

Mountain View will receive slightly more than $1 million through the Secure Rural Schools program, a federal line item designed to help schools in timber country.

All told, Idaho schools will share nearly $6 million in Secure Rural Schools funding.

Secure Rural Schools is designed to offset lost school revenues, due to declining timber sales on federal lands. For the Melba School District in the heart of Canyon County’s farm country, the new payment comes to 80 cents.

But for the Mountain View School District — based in Grangeville, and serving a sprawling 8,300-square-mile expanse of Idaho County — the cut from the federal program comes to $1,065,472.62.

That’s by far the largest payment to any Idaho district. But five other districts — Cottonwood, Kellogg, McCall-Donnelly, Orofino and Salmon — all will receive more than $300,000 apiece.

Not unlike the historic boom-and-bust cycle of the timber industry, the Secure Rural Schools program has had a turbulent history of its own.

Passed in 2000 — and co-authored by then-Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. — the law was designed to provide a budget buffer for counties and schools alike.

But funding has dwindled. In 2008-09, counties and schools across the nation shared $612 million in payments. Six years later, the budget had been cut in half.

The program has had to survive multiple threats on Capitol Hill. In the past, lawmakers have tucked program funding into unrelated bills to maintain the nation’s helium reserve or fund Medicare. Congress slashed funding in 2016-17.

So while Idaho schools are sharing $6 million in payments, this represents a cut from $6.7 million just three years ago.

Amidst this annual uncertainty, a bipartisan team of Idaho and Oregon senators is working on a Secure Rural Schools rewrite. Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Wyden want to create a $7.1 billion endowment to fund payments in perpetuity.

In Mountain View, meanwhile, school officials have banked Secure Rural Schools money into a reserve account. This year, the district is withdrawing $600,000 from the reserve account, covering about 5 percent of the overall budget.

The infusion of federal dollars does not solve all of Mountain View’s ongoing issues.

The district faces a projected shortfall of up to $2 million, partially due to declining student numbers and a reduction in state funding. Trustees have declined to offer contract extensions to several top administrators, including Superintendent Marcus Scheibe (additional coverage from the Lewiston Tribune). Teachers have been working without a contract for nearly a year; another tense negotiation session occurred last week. In December, the Idaho Education Association filed a pair of lawsuits over the stalled negotiations.

And district leaders say they need support from local taxpayers. On May 21, Mountain View will seek a one-year, $3.09 million supplemental property tax levy.

 

 

 

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