West Bonner considers shuttering two elementary schools

PRIEST RIVER — In the wake of a failed $4.7 million levy request, West Bonner school trustees will gather the community’s input next month about a proposal to reduce staff and shutter schools next year.

The patrons of this small North Idaho school district are confronted with the reality of a failed levy — students will be affected and jobs will be lost, a board trustee said during Wednesday evening’s special meeting.

“Our financial situation requires that we take action,” said Dean Davis, finance director.

The board did not make a final decision about closures or staff reductions. But school leaders were clear that next year’s budget will be “dramatically” reduced, and the following year they may face major problems keeping the district afloat.

To meet a state-mandated deadline, the board unanimously passed a preliminary budget — calling for the closure of two schools — that will likely be amended as the search for solutions continues.

“We are going to look at all options, and it’s going to take all of us to get this done,” trustee Paul Turco told the audience and community at large.

Trustees have scheduled a special meeting June 5 at 5 p.m. in the high school to gather public input and possibly vote on which schools to close.

Davis and interim superintendent Joe Kren presented multiple cost-savings options. The district’s financial situation may require the closure of one, two or three of its five schools.

It operates three elementary schools, one junior high school and one high school.

“The most drastic (option) will get us close?” asked Margaret Hall, board chairperson.

Closing three out of five schools — along with staff and other reductions — would balance the budget, Kren said.

“Who’s buying lottery tickets?” Hall asked rhetorically.

Just over 54% of the voters rejected the levy ask on May 21. The money was earmarked for, among other things, facility upgrades and maintenance, new buses and extracurricular activities. But more than half was for staff.

The reductions may include 13 teachers, one administrator and several classified staff employees. Teacher reductions would be done strictly through retirements, those leaving the district or expiring contracts, Kren said.

The decision hasn’t been made. “These are just our current options,” Kren said.

However, two strong reorganization ideas emerged: The district office could be sold or leased out to a tenant and the administrative staff relocated; and Priest Lake Elementary School is the most likely choice for closure among the three elementaries.

Priest Lake voted in favor of the levy but those families could take the brunt of the pain, Hall recognized.

“To dig ourselves out of this, we need creative (ideas) and brainstorming,” she said. “This is not where we want to be.”

Sports may be saved. The board favored using the help of community groups and fundraising efforts to support all extracurricular activities.

“Thank you for listening and letting us get the information out,” Kren told the audience.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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