Board weighs levy options

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SANDPOINT — School officials are planning the district’s financial future despite a world of fiscal ambiguity .

With large amounts of Lake Pend Oreille School District’s revenue sources still unclear, board members held their final planning session on a supplemental levy proposal. A large number of teachers, students and residents showed up at Kootenai Elementary Tuesday night to weigh in on the matter before the board chooses a final figure in early December.

LPOSD officials face the problem of picking a figure to request from local property taxpayers when future funding is still tenuous. According to district business manager Lisa Hals, it remains to be seen whether or not the district will secure $1,000,000 from an FCC appeal, $80,000 from a sequestration cut, an unknown figure in federal grant estimation and the potential loss of $220,000 from federal forest dollars and $173,250 from the Public Retirement System of Idaho.

Furthermore, Hals said the Idaho K-12 appropriation won’t occur until late March or early April, and that represents 65 percent of the school budget. Finally, the district receives health insurance premium renewal from Blue Cross — a figure of about 8 percent on the budget — in April next year, while they will finalize contracts in June.

“This is like putting the cart in front of the horse,” board chairman Steve Youngdahl said.

Because of the uncertainty, board members cautioned the public that no budget cuts would be a done deal until they have a better idea of the exact dollars and cents.

“We’re not wedded to any of these proposed or suggested cuts right now,” Youngdahl said. “These decisions will be made as fiscal realities become clear.”

In addition to Hals’ presentation, district technology director Randy Wittwer unveiled a more sustainable fiscal plan for his department. Requiring a budget of $900,000 over two years, he said it would save money by changing the strategy for tech purchases, implementing a “Bring Your Own Device” program and infusing technology more thoroughly into the classroom experience.

The board meeting featured a strong turnout from community members. While some encouraged the district to tighten belts and make cuts in nonacademic areas, most took the floor to defend educational programs like math intervention and the arts. Sandpoint High School senior Kristen McPeek and junior Tyson Bird provoked a particularly enthusiastic response for their defense of daytime programs like school newspaper the Cedar Post and student government.

“Thanks to these programs, I have a portfolio that I would not hesitate to submit along with a job application,” Bird said. 

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