The GOP-controlled Idaho legislature is underfunding our public school system by almost $1 billion. You heard it right. $1 billion.
On March 14th, school districts across the state will ask voters to pass bonds and levies that total over $700 million. They’re asking for help repairing their facilities, retaining teachers, buying new textbooks, and even building brand new schools to replace structures that are over 100 years old. Lake Pend Oreille School District needs to pass their levy or potentially fire 165 staff members. That’s about 26% of their total manpower.
Idaho GOP legislators tell you every spring that they’ve cut your taxes. But that’s absolutely not true. By cutting taxes for the wealthy, they’re shifting the tax burden to property owners raising the cost of living.
IDAHO’S $709 MILLION SCHOOL ELECTION DAY
For school districts across Idaho, a $709 million election day looms.
At least 45 of Idaho’s 115 school districts will seek bond issues, plant facilities levies or supplemental levies on March 14, according to Idaho Education News research. The bottom line: At least $709.2 million in ballot measures are on ballot.
Under Idaho law, school districts can run ballot measures on four election days: in March, May, August and November.
Why the logjam on March 14? Timing is certainly a factor.
A year ago, school districts avoided the March election date, which coincided with the Republican presidential primary. While GOP voters turned out to support Ted Cruz, voters in a handful of districts considered $47.4 million in bond issues and supplemental levies, saying yes to $32.3 million in school ballot measures.
In March 2015 — outside the glare of a presidential primary — school districts sought $429.1 million in bond issues and school levies, and got approval for $358.6 million in ballot measures.
To be sure, Idahoans are not being asked to vote on $709.2 million in tax increases. In many cases, districts structured their bond issues or levies to capitalize on growing property tax values — in other words, these districts would collect new taxes without increasing the property tax rate for schools. In some cases, districts are asking voters to approve the same supplemental levies that have been on the books.
Here’s a rundown of what’s on the ballot. (To find out more about elections in your community, click on the links.)
Boise: $172.5 million bond issue. The to-do list of 22 capital projects includes rebuilding six elementary schools, in whole or in part, and building a new elementary school in the growing Harris Ranch section of East Boise. The district’s Dennis Professional Technical Education Center would also get an expansion. The bond issue would cover the bulk of Boise’s facilities master plan, which has a $217 million sticker price.
West Ada: $160 million plant facilities levy. Unlike a bond issue, which is used for construction, a plant facilities levy is used largely for building maintenance and upkeep. The money goes for repairs, but also to keep up with growth; over the past decade, West Ada has spent about $6 million on portable classroom buildings.
Unlike a bond issue, which requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass, a plant facilities levy passes with 60 percent voter approval. The $160 million also represents the high end. West Ada wants the authority to collect up to $16 million a year for 10 years — down from the $20-million-a-year levy that passed in 2007.
Coeur d’Alene: $35.5 million bond issue; two-year, $32 million supplemental levy. The bond issue would go toward a new elementary school, new classrooms at the district’s two high schools and other projects.
The supplemental levy would cover everything from classroom staff to new textbooks to extracurricular activities. Unlike bond issues, supplemental levies require a simple majority to pass. Coeur d’Alene collected $15 million in supplemental levies in 2016-17, tops in Idaho.
Lewiston: $59.8 million bond issue. After studying renovation and expansion options, Lewiston now hopes to replace a high school that opened in 1928. The district says 14 of current the high school’s classrooms are 680 square feet; the standard for a high school classroom is 850 square feet. The building plan also includes a new career-technical center.
Kuna: $40 million bond issue; two-year, $5 million supplemental levy. A new high school tops Kuna’s wish list for the bond issue. The district also hopes to add eight classrooms at two elementary schools, and finish a variety of renovation projects.
The district says the supplemental levy would be used to update curriculum for the first time in a decade, starting with a math rewrite. Kuna did not collect a supplemental levy in 2016-17.
Lakeland: two-year, $17.98 million supplemental levy; $5.73 million plant facilities levy. The supplemental levy and the five-year plant facilities levy replace a pair of levies that expire this year. Lakeland collected a $5.3 million supplemental levy in 2016-17. The plant facilities levy needs a 55 percent majority to pass.
Vallivue: $20 million plant facilities levy. The Canyon County district has had a plant facilities levy on the books since 1987, and is seeking another 10-year extension. The district hopes to put the money towards repairs and upkeep and technology infrastructure. This levy requires a two-thirds supermajority.
Pocatello-Chubbuck: two-year, $18.5 million supplemental levy. The district hopes to extend a levy to hire teachers and paraprofessionals, maintain classroom and extracurricular programs and offset rising costs of employee insurance, utilities and supplies. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $9.24 million.
Lake Pend Oreille: two-year, $17 million supplemental levy. The majority of the money will go to maintain 165 staff positions, or about 26 percent of the district’s work force. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $7.88 million.
Idaho Falls: two-year, $13.8 million supplemental levy. The district hopes to use the money to supplement state funding for teachers, staff and programs. The district hopes to renew a $6.8 million-a-year supplemental levy that has been on the books since 2003-04.
Marsing: $13.5 million bond issue. The district’s top priority is a new middle school. Some money would also go toward a new gym and library at the high school, and other building projects.
Bonneville: two-year, $11.6 million supplemental levy. The district would use the levy to offset the costs of opening a new voter-approved high school. This levy represents an increase from Bonneville’s 2016-17 levy of $3 million — but the district says the change will not trigger a tax increase. One reason: rapid growth in Ammon, the booming East Idaho city served by Bonneville schools.
Blackfoot: $6 million plant facilities levy; two-year, $4.3 million supplemental levy. The plant facilities levy money would cover a variety of projects, including improving student dropoff areas, a renovated high school cafeteria and commons and repairs at the high school track. The district hopes to focus supplemental dollars on teacher salaries and benefits and classroom upgrades. This supplemental levy represents a decrease; the district collected $2.6 million in 2016-17.
Post Falls: two-year, $9.91 million supplemental levy. The district hopes to use this levy to update curriculum and upgrade classroom technology. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $4.65 million.
Twin Falls: two-year, $8.5 million supplemental levy. The levy would be used to cover staff positions, training, classroom materials and extracurricular activities. The current two-year, $9 million levy will expire this year.
West Bonner County: two-year, $6 million supplemental levy. The district says the money would help cover core academic subjects and extracurricular programs, technology and the district’s school resource officer. Unchanged from current supplemental levy.
Boundary County: two-year, $4.8 million supplemental levy. The district’s to-do list includes building upgrades and projects to make its schools safer, as well as technology and classroom materials. Unchanged from current supplemental levy.
St. Maries: two-year, $4.14 million supplemental levy. The district would use the money in several areas — including new textbooks and curriculum materials, replacing an aging school bus and upgrading classroom technology. Unchanged from current supplemental levy.
Fremont County: two-year, $3 million supplemental levy. The district hopes to put the levy into teacher retention, building security, textbooks, technology and musical instruments. Unchanged from current supplemental levy.
Mountain View: one-year, $2.66 million supplemental levy. Unchanged from current supplemental levy.
Potlatch: one-year, $1.9 million supplemental levy. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $1.38 million.
Murtaugh: 10-year, $1.75 million plant facilities levy.
Kootenai: two-year, $1.5 million supplemental levy. The levy would go towards building maintenance, technology and classroom learning supplies. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $650,000.
Snake River: two-year, $1.5 million supplemental levy. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $746,000.
Bear Lake County: two-year, $1.5 million supplemental levy. A reduction from the 2016-17 levy of $800,000.
Gooding: two-year, $1.3 million supplemental levy. An increase from the 2016-17 levy of $510,000.
Jerome: two-year, $1.3 million supplemental levy. The district has had a $650,000-a-year levy on the books since 2003.
Ririe: $825,000 bond issue; two-year, $440,000 supplemental levy. The district says its maintenance funds are drying up. The bond issue would be used to complete a list of maintenance projects over five years. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $385,000.
Plummer-Worley: two-year, $1.1 million supplemental levy. Unchanged from 2016-17 levy.
Bruneau-Grand View: two-year, $1 million supplemental levy. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $666,000.
Cascade: two-year, $1 million supplemental levy. Unchanged from 2016-17 levy.
Genesee: one-year, $935,000 supplemental levy. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $883,000.
Kendrick: one-year, $860,000 supplemental levy. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: $835,000.
Challis: two-year, $800,000 supplemental levy. Unchanged from 2016-17 levy.
Highland: one-year, $499,000 supplemental levy; $250,000 plant facilities levy. The supplemental levy is unchanged from 2016-17.
Soda Springs: one-year, $728,000 supplemental levy. A decrease from the 2016-17 levy of $795,000.
Mackay: five-year, $645,000 plant facilities levy.
Camas County: two-year, $600,000 supplemental levy. Unchanged from 2016-17 levy.
Horseshoe Bend: two-year, $600,000 supplemental levy. Unchanged from 2016-17 levy.
Fruitland: two-year, $590,000 supplemental levy. Supplemental levy, 2016-17: two-year, $700,000.
Hansen: two-year, $580,000 supplemental levy. Unchanged from 2016-17 levy.
Butte County: two-year, $320,000 supplemental levy; two-year, $130,000 plant facilities levy. No change from existing supplemental levy.
Grace: one-year, $300,000 supplemental levy; one-year, $150,000 plant facilities reserve fund levy. 2016-17 supplemental levy: $300,000.
West Side: one-year, $90,000 supplemental levy. Unchanged from a levy that has been on the books since 2006-07.
Idaho Education News reporter Devin Bodkin contributed to this report.