Good public school are essential for the economic health of our community and for the future of our children. One of the first questions people ask about this area before moving here or moving their company here is, “How are the schools?” One reason we have been able to maintain excellent schools is because of the community support for supplemental levies. The vast majority of school districts in Idaho depend on these levies to make up for the shortfall in state funding. While levies have been sup-ported and approved here for the past 18 years, some do not support them because the levies do raise property taxes. The question whether or not we need the current levy was decided last March. Now the issue is can we make that levy permanent (no increase).
In recent years the Lake Pend Oreille School District’s supplemental levies have become essential rather than supplemental. With 35% of the operating budget coming from the current levy, it places the district’s budget in danger every two years, and in dire straits should a levy fail to pass. The need for passing levies puts a strain and uncertainty on the entire planning and budgeting process. Teachers and staff can’t be certain of having jobs should a levy fail, not to mention the reduction or elimination of all academic and athletic extracurricular activities. Some schools might have to be consolidated or closed. Also, requesting a large levy every two years requires time, effort, money and divides the community.
In order to put a school budget back on a more sound financial foundation, the state legislature has permitted any school district to vote for a permanent levy provided the district meets certain criteria. The district has to have been authorized by election a supplemental levy for at least seven consecutive years that has been equal to or greater than 20% of the total general maintenance and operation budget. Since our district has met this criteria for many years, the school board agrees that now is the time to submit the question of a permanent levy to the voters. Additionally, this option of offering an “indefinite term” supplemental levy may be eliminated by our state legislature next session. This issue was on the agenda last year and did not pass, but will probably come up again.
In summary, the issue we would like the voters to decide is whether they would support making the current levy permanent or to continue the two year cycle of asking the voters to approve an “essential” supplemental levy. If this were to pass, it would take effect in 2021. A permanent levy can be reduced by a majority vote of the board of trustees, but cannot be increased without approval of the voters. If the current levy should be-come permanent, it would in no way lessen the financial accountability to the public. The outside auditing requirement, budgeting process, and financial transparency would remain the same as it is now. While having a permanent levy may not end the need for future levy requests -- depending on state funding, it would certainly put our school district’s finances on a much more solid foundation. For this reason, I would encourage you to vote in favor of this proposal.
Cary Kelly is president of the Lake Pend Oreille School District Board of Trustees.