West Ada will run supplemental levy again in August

Less than two weeks after voters turned down West Ada’s supplemental levy, trustees have decided to give it another try.

During a special meeting early Monday morning, trustees voted unanimously to put the two-year, $28 million levy on the ballot on Aug. 25.

The levy itself isn’t new: The state’s largest school district has collected a $14 million-a-year levy since 2012. But during the spring primary election, the levy received only 46 percent support, falling shy of the simple majority needed for renewal.

The levy represents about 5 percent of the district’s annual budget — and it is used largely to fund teaching positions and classroom instruction days. Since the failure of the levy, trustees have decided to use budget reserves to cover the difference, while leaving some certified and classified positions unfilled.

However, transfers from savings aren’t sustainable, district spokesman Eric Exline told trustees Monday morning. “That’s essentially a two-year solution.”

Trustee Steve Smylie reminded his colleagues that more than 90 school districts use a supplemental levy to cover a part of its budget. “It’s up for us to communicate that, as a school district, we really don’t have any other tools.”

While the board voted unanimously to run the levy again, trustee Amy Johnson voiced some reservations. She wondered how the district would try to make the case for an identical levy, so soon after the spring vote. She also raised concerns about seeking a levy during an economic downturn.

District officials estimate that the levy will cost about $52.60 per $100,000 of taxable property value. But when voters first approved the levy in 2012, this rate was $91 per $100,000 of taxable property value, Exline said. Since then, the levy has been collected against a growing tax base.

The spring primary was held exclusively by mail, with polling places closed in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus. Elections officials expect to allow in-person voting in August, Exline said, but vote by mail will remain a big component in the August election. Ninety percent of the voters in the spring primary also requested absentee ballots for August and November, he said.

Regardless, turnout for a standalone August levy election would figure to be low. During this spring’s primary, 46,000 voters cast ballots on the levy — up from the 15,000 voters who showed up for West Ada’s March 2018 standalone school election.

Kevin Richert

About 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 KIVI 6 On Your Side; "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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