By Shawn Woodward
On March 12, an instructional supplemental levy to support the Lake Pend Oreille School District will be on the ballots. It is our hope that community members will make an informed decision when it comes time to vote.
The Lake Pend Oreille School District serves approximately 3,840 students in 12 schools across Bonner County. This is approximately a 7.2-percent increase, or 258 student increase over the last four years. Due to this enrollment increase, state law would have allowed our board of trustees to impose an emergency levy without voter approval each of the last two years. The school district chose not to collect this approximately $1 million in additional revenue to offset these enrollment increases – but rather, in the interest of responsible governance, to wait and build the increase into this upcoming levy for the voters to approve on March 12.
And further in the interest of good governance, we have made a significant effort to collect, and respond to, the feedback of our community. During this past year, our district conducted a robust strategic planning process, including surveys and community meetings. The results led our school board to establish five-year goals which are incorporated into this levy request. Additionally, in response to our community’s expressed desires, we have added full-day kindergarten options; increased experiential learning classrooms; and created a Homeschool Academy to support families who choose to homeschool their kids. We have also continued to build pathways for students that better prepare them for both college as well as technical career options after high school.
The Lake Pend Oreille School District depends on local tax support to keep all of our schools open. Due to state funding formulas, that is the norm across Idaho; in fact, 83 percent of all the school districts in Idaho have a supplemental levy in place. Maintaining district operations is only possible by “supplementing” the tax dollars allocated from the state. It’s hard to overstate how important the funding from the levy is. In our case, the levy accounts for approximately one-third of the district’s overall operating budget.
What will the levy fund? First, it recognizes that our teachers and staff are what make the difference in the quality of education for our students. A key goal of this levy is to provide more competitive salaries and wages to help our district recruit, train, and retain highly effective personnel; again, the community feedback we received identified this as a top priority. Also in the levy are all athletics and extracurricular activities, instructional materials, staff training and technology upgrades. It will allow us to add a school resource officer, maintain levels of counseling support for students and add additional sections of full day kindergarten.
To be clear, the levy is only for the next two years; it’s not permanent. It is not a new tax, but rather replaces the expiring levy. For a home with an assessed valuation of $250,000 with the homeowner’s exemption, there is an increase to current school taxes of less than $7 per month. Even with this modest increase, our tax rate will remain well below the state average.
What happens if the levy does not pass? We talk of this because it would be irresponsible to not discuss the ramifications of the levy’s failure. Without the funding the levy provides – a third of our budget – the school district will be forced to lay off over 300 people. With the reduction in teachers and other staff positions, we will need to consolidate schools; it is likely that Clark Fork High School, Hope Elementary School, Southside Elementary School, Lake Pend Oreille Alternative High School, and possibly Northside Elementary School students would be shifted into other schools. This would cause class sizes of over 40 students and double shift schedules for the schools.
LPOSD’s teachers and staff have done a stellar job over the years to provide an excellent education for the children of our community. Please, get out and vote on March 12 to continue the success for students, families and the community. Thank you for your continued support.
Shawn Woodward is the superintendent of schools for Lake Pend Oreille School District.
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