SANDPOINT — With an increase in enrollment in the first week of school, the Lake Pend Oreille School District qualified for an emergency levy, which district officials chose to forego.
"We made a commitment to the voters of a projected tax rate in our supplemental levy ballot request in March ..." said Lisa Hals, chief financial and operations officer for the district, on Tuesday as she updated Idaho Sen. Shawn Keough and Rep. Sage Dixon on the district's financial and enrollment status for the 2017-2018 school year.
For qualifying districts, emergency funds can be levied at the expense of taxpayers without voter approval. If officials had elected to levy the funds, LPOSD would have been eligible for approximately $325,000. According to Idaho Education News, 12 districts across the state, including Coeur d'Alene and Lakeland, chose to levy emergency dollars for a total of $10.1 million.
Hals said while the district is comfortable with the amount of supplemental funds levied and approved by voters, the current plant fund balance is $5,600. Hals said she does not think the district could run a successful plant facilities levy or bond through voters at this time. Hals said LPOSD is in the minority because only 15 percent of school districts this year do not have a bond or plant levy.
"When we went to voters for our supplemental levy ... we said we would like to take $50,000 this year and another $50,000 next year and establish a plant fund balance," Hals said. "So between a combination of our general fund dollars and the supplemental levy, we are contributing $100,000 this year."
Superintendent Shawn Woodward said the district is working on a five-year strategic plan for facilities. Woodward said he will bring specifics of a plan model before the LPOSD board in October. From there, he said it will likely be a six-month process with board approval in mid-April. The first step, he said, will be to do a "thorough" needs assessment with input from the community, then move into drafting the strategic plan.
"What I think will happen is that the strategic plan will help us get more broad-scale support when it comes to getting voter-approved dollar support from our constituents," Woodward said.
In addition to hearing updates on LPOSD, Dixon and Keough updated the administrators and trustees on the state's Public School Funding Formula Committee, the financial position and forecast of the state and policies that may be deliberated in the upcoming legislative session.
Dixon, who sits on the funding formula committee, said a lot of the focus over the last two meetings was looking at the direction the committee plans to go in regards to the public education funding formula. It may be three to five years, but Dixon said he believes changes are coming to the public education funding formula in Idaho.
"I think there will be a change at the very least along the lines of how the money is distributed so it is following the child, if there is movement, if the child is leaving a brick and mortar school and going to online for various reasons — that online school is getting the funding it needs to continue to facilitate the child's education," Dixon said.
For the financial position of the state, Keough said the state is doing "much better" than what was forecasted, though caution remains because it is early in the fiscal year.
"We are only two months in, but the optimism is we will continue the growth as many of the areas in the state, not all, particularly rural Idaho, but many others have rebounded from the downturn and are doing exceptionally well, which is great," Keough said. "The 2.9 percent unemployment rate statewide is breathtaking. I've never seen that in my time of service."
As the meeting came to an end, Keough said legislators will continue to look at the career ladder, as well as continue the discussion on health insurance costs and the state potentially picking up more of those. Finally, she said, it is "safe to say" education funding will continue to increase.
"It is still falling short, obviously, but there are legislators who would not have, 10 years ago, supported increased funding for public education that do today," Keough said.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.