Sign of the times? Emergency levy bill appears to drop sharply

Schools are still tallying up enrollment for a pandemic autumn, but here’s one sign of a downward trend.

Districts will not be able to collect property taxes to offset the cost of growth, because their enrollment isn’t growing.

The taxes are known as emergency levies. Trustees can decide unilaterally to collect these levies, without a public vote, if their enrollment increases. A year ago, 14 districts collected more than $12.7 million in emergency levies, a 10-year high.

This year’s emergency levy tally isn’t likely to even come close. One reason: Three of the state’s perennial high-growth districts will not collect an emergency levy this year:

  • West Ada, the state’s largest school district, is expecting some enrollment drop, spokeswoman Char Jackson said. West Ada collected a $3.9 million emergency levy a year ago, by far the most in the state, and has imposed such a levy each year for more than a decade.
  • In Eastern Idaho, Bonneville’s enrollment numbers do not qualify the district for another emergency levy, Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said Monday. Like West Ada, Bonneville has collected an emergency levy each year for more than a decade — although last year’s $2 million levy drew the ire of critics who had campaigned to defeat an August 2019 bond issue.
  • Twin Falls will not collect an emergency levy this year, for the first time since 2012-13. The reason: flat enrollment. Last year’s levy was $659,000.

Idaho Education News canvassed the 14 districts that approved an emergency levy a year ago. Of the 13 districts that responded, only the Jefferson County School District said it will collect a levy this year.

According to documents posted on the district’s website, the levy pencils out to about $862,000, unchanged from the previous year. The money will go toward staffing, curricular materials and facilities needs, Superintendent Chad Martin said.

For many districts, flat or dropping enrollment left trustees with no choice: They couldn’t collect a levy even if they wanted to.

It was a different issue in North Idaho’s Plummer-Worley School District. The district, which serves the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, is a pocket of enrollment growth. Nonetheless, trustees decided against passing an emergency levy, Superintendent Russ Mitchell said Monday.

Last year’s levy came in at about $170,000.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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