Tensions are high in the Coeur d’Alene School District, because hundreds of jobs and school programs are riding on next month’s election results.
There’s more tension in the community, because not all patrons are in favor of raising their property taxes for additional school funding.
The district will ask voters on May 16 to approve a $50 million, two-year supplemental levy, which would add $10 million to the $40 million levies voters approved in both 2019 and 2021.
And the May ask comes on the heels of the March election when supplemental and plant facilities levies came up 300 votes shy to pass. The district asked voters to approve a $25 million levy “perpetually,” plus an additional $25 million plant facilities levy spread over five years.
For the third time in nine months, the district will present Coeur d’Alene voters with a funding request, but this time the “perpetuity” language is omitted and the plant facilities levy will be left off the ballot.
“We’ve tried to listen to our patrons, because some didn’t like the perpetuity piece. So that’s clearly the main reason we dropped it,” said Coeur d’Alene School District Superintendent Shon Hocker.
He’s “cautiously optimistic” voters will approve the levy in May, though he admits he won’t get much sleep that night because one of Idaho’s largest districts could be forced to close 25% of its operations and that would “cause an economic collapse in one of the largest cities in the state of Idaho,” Hocker said.
During a special school board meeting Tuesday, one patron disagreed with Hocker’s assessment.
“This is hardly the extreme dire situation alleged by the school district administration,” said Coeur d’Alene resident Randy Neal.
Hocker said he will notify more than 300 district employees next week that they could potentially lose their jobs if the May 16 supplemental levy fails.
“We want to give as much professional courtesy leeway to those staff so that they know if a levy does not pass, they would lose their positions within the district,” Hocker said. “This is hiring season across the rest of the country. And we don’t want them to miss out on that opportunity.”
Hocker said he bumped the levy request up by $10 million for inflation.
Neal told trustees inflation is not driving that request, it’s overstaffing. “The school continues to serve just a little bit more than 10,000 students. So the amount of students that we’re serving has not increased but the staff has more than doubled.”
The list below is how the district explains it will allocate money collected from the supplemental levy.
According to the district, those personnel cuts will be felt in every corner of the district: librarians, elementary and high school teachers, security officers, athletic directors, and administrative staff. And while jobs are at-risk, the district says it would also have to close elementary schools, cancel electives like music and art, and forgo many extracurricular sports.
Should the levy fail, local resident Diana Sheridan suggested the board hire a professional with cost-cutting experience.
“Rather than leave these decisions to the current people in the district, who may or may not have the experience of taking a budget and cutting it 10%, 15%, 25%, actually bring in an advisory group who is going to bring a more nuanced and successful way,” she said.
Hocker said Coeur d’Alene voters have approved smaller supplemental levies every two years for nearly 40 years, so the levy’s failure in March was a shock to district leaders.
“We have 95% of our employees in the district wondering if they’re going to get pink slipped and have a position next year,” Hocker said. “Tensions are high and stressors are high.”
Mike Buzga believes a smaller, $20 million levy request would easily pass. “You apparently didn’t take heed to what the voters said. I doubt there’s anybody in this room that would object to $20 million. Problem is, you asked for too much.”
The school board will hold a special meeting on Friday to make a formal financial emergency declaration. If the levy fails, the school board will go into executive session on May 17 and begin acting on the reduction in force measure; if it passes, they will rescind the financial emergency.
The third iteration of Coeur d’Alene’s supplemental levy
The proposed supplemental levy replaces an existing two-year supplemental levy that expires at the end of this school year. The current levy costs $76.17 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. If the proposed levy is approved, the tax is expected to increase by $19.04 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. The new two-year tax would equate to $95.21 per $100,000. To find out more about how this levy will impact your taxes, use this link to reach the district’s information page.