The Bonneville School District is facing backlash after recently approving a $2 million emergency levy.
Trustees approved the levy during their Aug. 28 board meeting — one day after voters rejected a $42 million bond issue to build a new elementary school and bankroll upgrades at Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools. But unlike bond issues and supplemental school levies, emergency levies do not require voter approval. Districts such as Bonneville can collect emergency levies to cover the costs that come with enrollment increases.
At least 12 districts will collect emergency levies this year. These property tax levies come to about $11.9 million, the highest total in at least a decade.
The Bonneville blowup
Emergency levies are nothing new for Bonneville, a fast-growing district in East Idaho. Bonneville has set an emergency levy every year for the past decade, collecting nearly $13.3 million.
But $2 million is larger than any emergency levy Bonneville has collected over the past 10 years. Administrators say an average daily attendance increase of 384 students justified the levy. Bonneville will use this year’s emergency levy dollars for teacher salaries and benefits, classroom overflow aides and instructional materials, Business Manager Guy Wangsgard said.
D93 Citizens, a local group that opposed last month’s bond issue, said the levy is emblematic of a larger problem.
“We are sick and tired of being the most highly taxed large school district in Idaho, especially when we have so many new homes paying more property taxes than ever before,” D93 Citizens spokeswoman Halli Stone wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Bonneville is one of Idaho’s fastest growing districts. Yet with around 13,000 students, securing local funds for structural upgrades has been a struggle. Due largely to its still-developing tax base, Bonneville generates less local revenue than other districts its size. As a result, patrons pay one of the highest levy rates in Idaho.
In response to the emergency levy, D93 Citizens will hold a rally outside before the school board’s meeting Wednesday night. Stone called on patrons to meet outside the district at 6:30 p.m., then move into district offices, at 3497 N. Ammon Road, for the 7 p.m. meeting.
“Such utter contempt and total disregard for taxpayers will not go unnoticed nor unanswered,” Stone wrote.
Bonneville Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the planned rally. Last week, he emphasized two ways the district is trying to reduce its financial burden on taxpayers:
- Bonneville was eligible for a $2,046,720 emergency levy, but the district chose to keep the amount at $2 million.
- The district will hold off on replacing its recently retired deputy superintendent in order to pay for a secretive payout of more than $191,000 to its former outgoing superintendent.
The statewide picture
Here’s the rundown on emergency levies elsewhere in Idaho:
West Ada: $3.9 million. For Idaho’s largest school district, enrollment growth is a constant. This year, 722 additional students showed up for the start of the school year, and this influx could push enrollment above the 40,000 plateau.
West Ada has collected an emergency levy every year for at least the past 11 years, collecting $29.7 million.
Kuna: $1,379,543. In this Ada County bedroom community, 286 new students showed up this year, roughly a 5 percent increase.
The district will use its money to hire four teachers, purchase classroom technology and learning materials and replenish budget reserves.
Vallivue: $1.3 million. “The district could have certified for more, but estimated that we could cover the costs with that amount,” Superintendent Pat Charlton said in an email. Student numbers in the Canyon County district have increased by about 3 percent, with enrollment reaching about 9,600. Vallivue has hired 20 new teachers for the new school year. “We feel that class loads are at an acceptable size — for now,” Charlton said.
Jefferson County: $861,814. The district has added 288 students, nearly a 5 percent increase. The East Idaho district will use its emergency levy to add 10 teachers, hire support staff and purchase materials to handle the growth, Superintendent Chad Martin said.
Madison: $770,000. The East Idaho district will use the money to buy textbooks, supplies, computers, chairs and desks to accommodate an additional 151 students, Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas said.
Madison’s enrollment reached a record 5,371 students.
Twin Falls: $659,202. Trustees approved the new — and significantly smaller — emergency levy Monday. A year ago, the growing Magic Valley district qualified for $2.5 million.
This year, Twin Falls has added about 120 students, a 1 percent increase. It will use the emergency levy to keep teachers in the classroom. “Due to a competitive labor market, the district hires staff members in the spring based on projections of students who could potentially attend (Twin Falls) schools in the fall,” the district said in a news release last week.
Twin Falls has collected an emergency levy for the past seven years.
Lakeland: $259,722. The North Idaho district has added 121 students, about a 3 percent enrollment increase, Superintendent Becky Meyer said. Lakeland will use its emergency levy to hire teachers and staff and purchase classroom technology and supplies.
Teton County: $248,892. The district has added 42 students, business manager Blake Snedaker said. This represents about a 2 percent enrollment increase.
Kimberly: $202,968. The Magic Valley district has added about 90 students, a 4 percent increase. Kimberly will use the levy to cover staffing costs, Superintendent Luke Schroeder said.
Kimberly has collected an emergency levy every year for at least the past 10 years.
Soda Springs: $183,000. No additional information was available Wednesday.
Plummer Worley: $170,478. Plummer Worley has added 22 students, representing about a 6 percent increase for the rural North Idaho district. Levy dollars will go toward staffing, Superintendent Judi Sharrett said.
Some districts pass on levies
At least three districts decided to do without an emergency levy this year — despite enrollment growth.
Coeur d’Alene was eligible for a levy of up to $900,000, but decided to use existing general fund dollars to cover added costs. The decision came six months after Coeur d’Alene voters approved an increased supplemental levy, which will bring in $20 million a year for two years.
“I think it’s the right thing to do, not just for our staff and kids, but in appreciation for our community standing behind us and approving a $4 million increase in the levy,” Board Chairman Casey Morrisroe said of the decision to forgo the emergency levy.
Emmett also decided against an emergency levy of more than $426,000.
“As our district continues to grow I am anticipating that Emmett will be asking for support from our community for other building projects, so I did not want to burden our community with an additional emergency levy increase,” Superintendent Craig Woods said.
In May, Emmett voters approved a two-year, $3 million supplemental levy.
Wendell will go without a $100,000 emergency levy, since the district will ask voters to renew a two-year, $1.2 million supplemental levy in May, Superintendent Tim Perrigot said.
And in Nampa, trustees decided against considering an emergency levy, due to technical issues. In the wake of a districtwide malware attack in August, administrators are still struggling to come up with an accurate student headcount, spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said.
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.