On March 8, Bonner County voters will have a choice to make. On that day we can choose to renew the expiring school levy. As the parent of two high school students, I feel both a right and a responsibility to address the levy issue.
My two daughters got their elementary school education at a private Christian school here in Sandpoint and received an excellent education. Since then they transitioned to the middle school and the high school here in Sandpoint. I have been overwhelmingly pleased and impressed by the level of commitment, competence, and dedication on the part of teachers and administrators
Our graduation rate is impressive; this year alone, we have four high school seniors who are National Merit finalists, an amazing accomplishment for our small town and relatively small school.
It is not the Idaho way to spend money on lavish school buildings — just take a walk through the middle school. No one here gets rich in the school system. On the other hand, it seems that we spend our money where it counts, on teachers.
The teachers who teach here are definitely committed. If they worked across the border in Washington their pay would be at least 25 percent higher.
Over the past five years, the high school has reduced staffing by 13 certified teachers, so they are already trying to make do on limited resources.
Students are sharing buses for athletic events, and the school has reduced classroom field trips. Many of the extracurricular activities we see highlighted in the newspaper are financed privately, by local foundations and donations. If the levy is not renewed, we face the loss of funding for one-third of our teaching staff, with the potential increase in class size to more than 35 students per class.
Idaho ranks in the bottom two states in the U.S. for educational funding per student. In addition, our school district has the second lowest school tax per assessed valuation in the state. No one, myself included, likes to pay taxes, and it seems to me that there should at some point be adjustments to the tax system to make it more fair and progressive. Nonetheless, we need to operate within the present system to maintain our present level of school funding.
There is no question that times are hard, but they have been hard before as well. Our state has survived good times and bad. The writers of the Constitution for the state of Idaho thought education to be so important that the right to education was included in our constitution.
One hears the founding fathers referred to frequently these days. One of our most educated founders, Thomas Jefferson, noted that our democracy would not survive without an educated populace. Next Tuesday the voters in Bonner County have a chance to renew our commitment to education, and show our children that we care about their future. Vote yes to renew the levy. Without a good education, our children face a diminished future.
DAN MEULENBERG, M.D.