Staff reductions imminent after levy fails in Caldwell

Caldwell trustees gave the school district’s administration the authority to reduce staff and make other cuts as needed to fix a funding deficit caused by last week’s failed levy.

Tuesday’s board decision was in response to voters rejecting a $4.1 million supplemental levy proposal on May 21. Caldwell’s annual allocation from the state is just under $40 million so the supplemental levy was about a 10% addition to the budget. Caldwell has had a supplemental levy on the books for more than 30 years.

“It’s extremely hard that we lost our supplemental levy,” said Marisela Pesina, board chair. “These are hard times. … We want to do what is best for our students, and keep in mind that their education is foremost in our minds. … All of our decisions are based on that, to not lose the integrity of the education of our children.”

Marisela Pesina, chair of the Caldwell School District board, and board member Travis Manning.

Pesina said Tuesday that the board will meet again at 6 p.m. on June 3 at a venue to be determined. She said the board would be able to give more specifics of the impact of the budget deficit at that meeting. The board will then have a public budget hearing on June 10.

Lawmakers have eliminated both the March and August election dates for school bonds and levies, leaving May and November for districts to ask patrons for additional funding.

“Our next opportunity will be in the November general election, which would not be levied until our 2025-26 school year,” said Cheryl Sanderson, the district’s chief financial officer.

Sanderson also said the district will be taking a hit from state funding. “During the COVID shutdown, the Legislature and the governor … provided additional funding by making special accommodations,” she said. Those additional funds will be going away next school year.

“Our support units are actually decreasing considerably over what we were funded this year,” she said. “So, we are looking at approximately $1.5 million … less funding from the state as well as losing our supplemental levy in the same year.”

Travis Manning, the vice chair of the board, had some strong words that were directed at Idaho’s Legislature.

“For 85 out of 115 school districts in the state of Idaho, they have supplemental levies,” Manning said. “And so, one may ask: Why? Why do you run supplemental levies? The state should give you enough money. And, unfortunately, what has happened over time is the Legislature has neglected their civic duty to fund … public schools.”

Manning said he was concerned about how the impending cuts would affect students. “School districts are complicated places,” he said. “They face all kinds of challenges, and we are a full-service district. We provide numerous programs to support our kids … all kids, whether you’re a gifted and talented student or a special education student … Or maybe you’re a kid that doesn’t even have a home. We serve all kids, and we help all kids.”

Caldwell superintendent N. Shalene French
Caldwell superintendent N. Shalene French

Manning later asked Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French to address the pros and cons of a four-day school week.

“We have not considered going to a four-day week,” French said. “There is research … that the cost savings of a four-day week are minimal, if any. There are a few things that you might be able to save on … but it is not significant enough to be a huge cost savings.

“What I do know is that students, their parents, who live below the poverty level do not do well academically. That’s the research. Students who are learning English as a second language do not do well on a four-day week, and minority students – students of color – do not do well on a four-day week. … That’s what I know right now.”

Chris Langrill

Chris Langrill

Chris is a former Idaho Statesman reporter and editor who is freelancing for EdNews this summer.

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