Area school levies pass, fail across county

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SANDPOINT — It was a win some, lose some for Bonner County school districts on Tuesday.

Voters took to the polls to vote on supplemental levies in three districts and, according to the preliminary final results, Lake Pend Oreille and Lakeland Joint school districts were successful, while West Bonner County School District was not.

LPOSD’s two-year, $25.4 million request passed with 3,391 votes in favor, and 2,643 votes against.

“We are thrilled with the results of the levy election,” said LPOSD Superintendent Shawn Woodward. “Our community believes in the work we are doing to support kids and families. We are so grateful and thankful that our community shows such great support for public education. We do not take this responsibility lightly and we will continue to work hard to maintain trust and to ensure high levels of learning for all of our students.”

WBCSD’s two-year, $6 million request, however, failed with 536 votes in favor, and 769 votes against the levy. There was a second question on the ballot as well, whether or not to make the $3 million per year request permanent, and while that measure failed with only 387 votes in favor and 900 against, the question is void with the failure of the levy.

“I think trying to run a permanent levy caused confusion among the voters,” said WBCSD Paul Anselmo. “Our school tax rate actually decreases from previous levies, and I think there might have been some misinformation being spread and confusion with the much larger LPOSD levy, which was an increase.”

The WBCSD request would have replaced the current levy of the same amount that expires in June. WBCSD relies on the levy for 26 percent of its budget and covers areas such as the district’s general fund shortfall of $2,128,737 per year, as well as class fees, the school resource officer, technology supplies, library and school funds, and curriculum among others.

If both the levy and the permanent override had passed, the override would have allowed the district to levy up to $3 million each year without having to ask voters to approve it every two years unless they chose to increase the levy amount. School districts in Idaho are eligible for the override after seven consecutive years of voter-approved levies that account for more than 20 percent of the district’s general fund.

With only 1,308 total votes cast, the total voter turnout in West Bonner was 20.17 percent. Anselmo said voter turnout was down a bit for levy election, and Tuesday’s weather “certainly” played a part.

As for what the future holds for the district with the failure of the levy, Anselmo said the board will have to review it at the next meeting and discuss further actions. The next board meeting is Wednesday, March 20 at 6 p.m.

“I would like to add that as a community we need to stand up for public education — these students are our future,” Anselmo said.

The Lake Pend Oreille School District’s request saw a 31-percent voter turnout, also down from the 43-percent turnout in 2017. The LPOSD measure replaces the two-year, $17 million levy approved by voters in 2017, which expires in June. The levy funds approximately 30 percent of the district’s maintenance and operational costs, including technology, curriculum, all student activities, and bus acquisition.

The largest portion of the levy, the reason for the increase, will be dedicated to raising salaries. District officials recently engaged the community in a year-long strategic planning process that resulted in five priority areas, one of which was to recruit and retain highly effective staff. Superintendent Shawn Woodward said the goal is to make the district more competitive with Idaho’s regional schools, such as Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls to help meet that priority.

Under the current levy amount, the tax rate with an assessed value of $250,000 with a homeowner’s exemption is $20.75 per month. The replacement levy will increase that amount by $6.92 per month in 2020.

Lakeland’s two-year. $8.99 million request passed, though of the 10 votes cast in Bonner County, eight voted against the measure. Overall, it passed with 1,432 in favor and 921 against.

For Lakeland, the levy funds represent about 25 percent of the district’s general fund. Brian Wallace, the district’s finance director, said in December that the existing taxes will not increase upon approval of the levy. He estimated that, with a total assessed value of the district estimated to increase by 5 percent, the supplemental levy rate would go down to $2.71 per $1,000 taxable value in 2020, and $2.58 in 2021. The current rate is $2.85.

Lakeland’s supplemental levy funds help pay for maintenance and operations expenses, including all-day kindergarten, technology, all academic and athletic extracurricular activities, classroom materials, safety improvements, Advanced Learning Program opportunities and expansion of the vocational program.

Election results will not be official until canvassing is complete.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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