SANDPOINT — The Lake Pend Oreille School District's $17 million supplemental levy goes to voters in less than a month, and district officials are working to answer questions coming up in the meantime.
Among them is, "What would happen if the levy doesn't pass?" LPOSD Superintendent Shawn Woodward said he doesn't particularly like to address the "what ifs" because district officials are trying not to employ fear or scare tactics; however, he feels compelled to share the reality of what would happen if the levy fails so there is no "complacency or apathy" on March 14.
The first thing that would happen if the levy doesn't pass, Woodward said, is some of the district's schools would close. Those schools would likely include Clark Fork Junior/Senior High School, Hope Elementary, Northside Elementary, Southside Elementary and Lake Pend Oreille High School.
"The goal is, absolutely, to keep all of our schools open," Woodward said. "... The stark reality is that we could not have the number of schools open that we do now because we are that dependent on levy funding. In the past we haven't articulated that very well, but given the climate that we are in now, we felt that it is necessary to be upfront about what would happen, so people really have an understanding of what they are voting on."
A chart of elementary school classes and class sizes in the district shows most with 20 to 30 students in each class. The smallest class size is a kindergarten class with 14 students, and the highest number of students is 31 for fifth grade. Many of the higher grades had a higher number of students per class than lower grades. One kindergarten class has 26 students, but also has a classroom aide for support. If the levy failed and three elementary schools closed, about 20 classes would be consolidated and the kids sent to the open schools, which would create over-populated classrooms.
Staffing is an issue that would be addressed as well. With the closing of schools, Woodward said some staff would be let go in a seniority guided process, with a mix of evaluations, but in general, the newest teachers in those schools would be let go. Long-time teachers would stay in the district, replacing newer teachers in the open schools.
The highest line item amount on the supplemental levy ballot is staffing, which asks for approximately $6.8 million per year for two years to cover one-third of staffing costs. Approximately 300 full- and part-time positions are covered by the levy, which Woodward said there has been some confusion over this number. In tax year 2016, Woodward said, the district sent out 862 W2s. Where the confusion comes in is when someone looks at an individual month's payroll, there may only be 600 people paid that month because some positions throughout the year are part time or seasonal.
Woodward said he has heard concerns that people are unsure why the district needs to increase counseling staff. The proposed levy has an increase of about $1.2 million over the current levy, which would be replaced by the proposed levy if passed, and he said a small part of that increase is due to the desire to add an additional elementary school counselor.
"One of our goals is to be highly responsive to our student needs, and we know without a doubt that we have so many students that come to our schools every day that need support — not just academic support, but emotional support as well," Woodward said.
He said it is proven that students who struggle with social emotional issues cannot focus on academics, so the district needs to address those needs and, currently, it does not have the staff to do that. The district has one counselor for about 2,000 elementary students. A counselor from Kaniksu Health Services is also currently available to the district through grant funding from the state.
The goal, Woodward said, is to add one counselor with levy funds and another through Panhandle Alliance for Education funds for two years.
Some other areas that would see cutbacks are electives and activities at Sandpoint High School. The levy funds 100 percent of athletic and academic extracurricular activities. Woodward said participation rates of athletics are "through the roof" and part of the reason participation is so high is because students do not have to pay to play.
Overall, the supplemental levy has been supported by the community in the last 17 years it has been in place, Woodward said.
He reiterated that it is distinct from the recently failed $55 million plant facilities levy, which would have remodeled and rebuilt much of the district's aging infrastructure. The supplemental levy covers approximately 30 percent of district operations, including, as mentioned, staffing, athletics and other extracurricular activities. It also funds curriculum, instructional materials, professional development, technology, teaching and learning, and student wellness.
The levy would replace the current $15.7 million levy; therefore it is not added on top of what taxpayers are currently paying. The current rate for taxpayers is $176 per $100,000 of net taxable value. At $8.3 million for the first year of the proposed levy, the rate for taxpayers would increase to $180 per $100,000 of net taxable value — a $4 increase from the current rate. In the second year, at $8.7 million, the rate would be $184 per $100,000 of net taxable value.