Legislators, LPOSD talk finances, schools

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SANDPOINT — Only time will tell what Lake Pend Oreille School District’s financial reality is.

Local school administrators and Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, outlined a variety of legislative actions that could impact the district in a Tuesday conference call. While Eskridge continues his work on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to finalize the amount of money headed toward local districts, other factors like bills to replace the repealed Students Come First reforms, the fate of a proposed repeal of personal property tax, upcoming bills related to the gun control debate and the future of health care in Idaho will all affect the district.

According to Eskridge, the final appropriations for school district will likely reflect Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s proposed 2-percent increase in school spending and State Superintendent Tom Luna’s suggestion of 3 percent.

“From a personal perspective, I think we’ll be somewhere around three percent,” Eskridge said.

Discussions over the repeal of personal property tax throw local districts’ financial situation into more ambiguity. The proposal is meant to put more money in business coffers in hopes of spurring employment and economic development. However, district business manager Lisa Hals noted that such a measure would be a de facto increase on local property taxpayers. Because the amount of money collected from the supplemental levy wouldn’t change, home and property owners would pay a higher rate to reach that threshold.

While Otter has suggested counties implement local option taxes to make up the revenue shortfall from the repeal, Keough and Eskridge agree that they won’t support the measure unless the money is replaced by the state.

Legislators are also preparing to introduce legislation that would reintroduce some aspects of Proposition 1 from the defunct Students Come First reforms, which restricted collective bargaining rights and altered the teacher-district negotiation process. District officials noted that state authorities removed discussion of these items from the table in an advisory committee consisting of education professionals.

“I was disappointed by that,” Keough said.

On the same token, Eskridge worried that legislators were rushing to finalize the bills without sufficient public input, something many accused them of regarding the original reforms.

“I told people that we may be making the same mistakes we made before,” Eskridge said.  

Legislators may also be introducing bills next week in response to the Obama administration’s gun control package. While Eskridge said the specifics of the bills are still unknown, they may impact measures schools will take in ensuring safety.

Hals was curious about the use of a $33 million line item previously dedicated to teacher bonuses introduced by Students Come First. Keough said that while the decision regarding that money hasn’t yet been determined, she would like to see it bolster teacher paychecks.

“I think we should allocate it to salary, because that’s where the dollars were supposed to go,” she said.

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