By Tom Albertson
Special to the Reader
Teaching and learning is the main focus in Lake Pend Oreille School District (LPOSD). Decisions on personnel, budget, student opportunities, funding and facilities all impact the student in the classroom. Providing the pathway to prepare students to be successful in their future is at the forefront of every decision. Accomplishing this requires a collaboration between the student, teacher, parents and community.
The success of each student depends on stable funding, which currently is a combination of state funding, local taxes and other local private support. This funding allows LPOSD to keep our rural schools operating, provides our students with important opportunities, and enables us to recruit and retain quality teachers. The LPOSD Board of Trustees, in an attempt to stabilize funding, put forth a ballot measure on Nov. 5 asking voters to allow the previously approved levy dollar amount of $12.7 million dollars per year to be continuous, decreasing the need for the school district to ask voters to approve a maintenance and operation levy every two years.
This decision to come to the voters with the option to make the current levy, approved in March 2019, continuous was not taken lightly by the school board. The school district qualified for this option several years ago but did not present it to the citizens until Nov. 5, 2019. Much of this decision was based on fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers — budgeting within the means of the current maintenance and operation levy dollar amount.
Unlike other taxing districts within Bonner County, which can annually increase taxes up to 3%, this flat dollar amount cannot be increased without voter approval. It is the school board’s intent to budget within these means for as many years as possible without coming back to the voters every two years with an increase.
We worked to make information on the reasoning and impact of the option available to voters and, armed with this information, voters approved the continuous levy.
I will respectfully disagree that the continuous levy brings a lack of budgeting accountability to the school district. Every taxpayer has representation within their zone on the school board, and budgets are established annually and must be set in an open meeting with the opportunity for public input. Our finances are held to an annual external audit, which is also presented to the public and available on the district website. This cannot and will not change regardless of a biennial vote or continuous levy.
The approved ballot language presented to the voters was challenged for missing a “dollar amount per $100,000” statement, a new requirement as of July 1, 2019. The language was drafted in good faith, delivered to and approved by the Bonner County county clerk, and communicated to the public clearly on what was being asked. This included public forums, local radio interviews, mailers to voters and public presentations sponsored by community organizations.
Within many of these presentations, the rate of $214 per $100,000 net taxable value was presented and discussed. The county clerk verified that the Idaho attorney general, Idaho secretary of state, and Idaho State Tax Commission all agreed that the election is valid unless successfully challenged in court. A challenge has been filed and it is now for a District Court judge to decide.
Public comment received by the district has also appeared in the media, accusing the district of somehow “breaking the law.” In fact, the district is seeking to uphold the law, which provides that election defects are not allowed to invalidate an election unless it can be shown that the outcome was affected. It is impossible to prove whether seeing the tax information on the ballot would have changed votes. A recent letter to the editor said it best: “No one was confused by the language and including it would not have changed a single vote.” Until proven otherwise in court, the district needs to stand by the results of the election.
I appreciate citizen concerns around the election and expenses incurred due to this legal challenge. The school district has insurance coverage for legal costs within coverage limits, and we feel it is the proper course of action to allow the decision to be determined in District Court. The LPOSD school board feels duty bound to honor the voice of the majority from the Nov. 5 election and allow due process to follow its course.
Again, the Idaho secretary of state, Idaho attorney general and Idaho Tax Commission have all indicated that the levy is valid unless the District Court judge decides otherwise. The board is not in a position — and does not have legal authority — to “void” the election, which has been stated in the contest to the levy.
Tom Albertson is superintendent of Lake Pend Oreille School District No. 84. For more information, visit lposd.org.
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