SANDPOINT — In preparation for the upcoming school levy vote, many undecided residents have wondered exactly how the dollars will be spent.
The levy will draw a total of $13,646,624 over the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years from property taxes. According to district officials, it will primarily fund staffing expenses and student classroom improvement and activities, including curriculums, technology up-grades and staff and all extracurricular athletic and academic programs. That totals to $6,001,227 spent on staff and $822,085 spent on enhancement programs.
To put those numbers into perspective, the Lake Pend Oreille School District currently has $17,905,719 allocated for staff salaries plus another $6,223,936 for benefits in its 2011 budget. The $6 million generated each year from the levy would account for around one-third of the current staff. With 550 employees under its wing, the school district is one of the largest employers in the county.
While LPOSD officials are planning on at least a $2.5 million cutback by the state, they still have no idea what the actual total will be.
Many of the details about final funding distribution are tied up in Senate Bill 1113, a section of State Superintendent Tom Luna’s proposed education reforms still being tweaked by the Idaho Senate’s education committee. If passed, the bill will likely contain stipulations about how the funds are used.
“If we’re going to absorb a cut, we’d like the flexibility to determine where the money will go,” LPOSD Superintendent Dick Cvitanich said.
LPOSD Business Manager Lisa Hals estimates that state funding will total around $15.2 million. Salaries and benefits once again eat up the bulk of that sum, followed by discretionary spending on necessities like utility costs. Transportation expenses represent a third, smaller category.
Despite the uncertainty of state allocations, the district budget attributes 65 percent of its general fund to Boise dollars. The levy funds will account for 27 percent. Finally, federal sources contribute another one percent while other local sources yield seven percent.
For taxpayers, the practical impact of that 27 percent will depend on their property values. Individuals with property valued at $100,000 and a homeowner’s exemption will only see a monthly tax increase of 76 cents. By comparison, a resident with a $450,000 property can expect to pay an extra $6.51. However, based on an average home value of $250,000, taxpayers currently dropping $16.75 a month will see an increase of $3.44 to a total $20.19.
While tax increases are never popular, district officials said the local school levy is comparatively low. LPOSD maintains a taxation rate 60 percent lower than the state average.
If the levy fails, the LPOSD board and administrators will be forced to draft a new levy proposal. Locals will return to the polls on May 17 to decide the revised levy’s fate.
LPOSD officials already know that even if the levy passes, they will need to cut staff positions and programs from the budget. But according to Hals, those sacrifices will pale in comparison to the cuts required with no levy present whatsoever.
“We’re talking about one-third of our operational budget being eliminated,” she said. “You wouldn’t even be able to recognize the district after that.”