West Ada mulls Nov. 3 supplemental election

Leaders of the West Ada School District are gearing up to ask their patrons to reauthorize a $14 million supplemental levy — with Election Day arriving as early as Nov. 3.

School trustees did not take official action to call a supplemental levy election during Tuesday night’s school board meeting at the district office. But with West Ada’s existing $14 million supplemental levy set to expire next year, district leaders looked closely at notification deadlines, calendars and budget scenarios.

The existing $14 million supplemental levy was used to buy back nine instructional days that were cut during the economic recession, and trustees said renewal of the levy is vital to keeping those days in the calendar next year and maintaining instructional time between students and teachers.

Russell Joki
Russell Joki

“I think it is important for us to bring to the public that this levy, clearly we need it or the budget will be in a free-fall if we don’t continue it,” board member Russell Joki said. “We are one of 93 districts out 115… that have to do it because the Legislature is not meeting its Constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools.”

If the district runs, and voters pass a supplemental levy, the total amount levied between the plant facilities levy, the supplemental and the district’s bond issue will remain $399 for every $100,000 of a homeowner’s taxable valuation — the same as it is today.

District spokesman and public information officer Eric Exline recommended Tuesday that board members run the supplemental levy on Nov. 3, the next available date on the state’s election calendar.

Potential levy dates are also available in 2016 on March 8, May 17 and Aug. 30, but Exline expressed concerns with each of those options. On March 8, members of Idaho’s dominant Republican Party will head to the polls for a new, early-season presidential primary. Exline worried that those voters would be too focused on the presidential primary and that the district’s levy could become an afterthought lost in the election “noise,” jeopardizing the outcome.

The same goes for May 17, the more traditional spring primary election that is likely to be jam-packed with legislative primary races.

Finally Exline expressed concern that the August 2016 date could be too late, forcing district officials to scramble to assemble two 2016-17 budget proposals — one assuming the supplemental levy passes, another assuming it fails.

“This (supplemental levy) is the biggest thing that is facing us right now,” board member Mike Vuittonet said. “It would be catastrophic, to say the least, to actually fail this particular bond.”

West Ada district logoIf board members wish to run their supplemental levy on Nov. 3, they need to approve the election and submit official paperwork to the county election’s office by Sept. 14. Board members are scheduled to participate in a finance and bond issue work session on Sept. 1. They could, potentially, make a decision that night if action on the supplemental election is added to the agenda, or district leaders could call a special board meeting prior to Sept. 14.

If board members authorize the $14 million supplemental levy, a simple majority of voters would need to approve it in order for it to pass.

Based on attendance numbers during the first two days of the new school year, district leaders will also likely seek a separate emergency levy to compensate for an increase in students. Emergency levies do not need to go before voters for approval.

In other action during Tuesday’s more than 4.5-hour meeting, trustees:

  • Discussed options for streaming board meetings online or posting or archiving the audio. Board members took no action, but ordered an additional report outlining cost scenarios and streaming services other districts use. The nearby Caldwell School District, the Idaho Legislature and the State Board of Education regularly use online streaming services to make their meetings available to those who cannot physically attend.
  • Complained about unreliable bus transportation services that have plagued the first two days of the school year. Superintendent Linda Clark and Trustee Julie Madsen placed much of the blame with their contracted transportation service provider, Cascade Transportation Company, saying routes and afternoon drop-off times were not available to parents, confusion reigned throughout the first two days of school and that some children were not picked up or accounted for. Additionally, Cascade did not have a user-friendly web portal to provide routing information to parents and several families who contacted Cascade were either hung up on or did not have their calls returned, Madsen said. Madsen, in particular, said she pulled her children out of the bus transportation program because she didn’t think the system was a safe, reliable way to transport her children. District officials said routing information should be available to schools by Thursday afternoon. A Cascade regional general manager attended Tuesday’s meeting, but said he was only made aware of the issues hours beforehand and did not have answers about some of the problems. Clark indicated she would meet with the district’s legal team to see what remedies West Ada officials have available under the Cascade contract, calling the situation “a major frustration” and “totally unacceptable.”

Clark Corbin

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