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Lake Pend Oreille School District Passes Emergency Levy

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Some citizens concerned it might be illegal

Seven a.m. on a Monday morning, and the trustees for Lake Pend Oreille School District 84 were gathered together before the workday to do business… specifically, to vote on an emergency levy for the district. After over an hour of Board discussion and public comment, trustees voted to impose another emergency levy on local property owners. The vote was three to two, with Kathy Chambers and Vickie Pfeiffer casting the dissenting votes. 

Chief Administrator Steve Battenschlag requested the board authorize the levy, basing the request on increased ADA (Average Daily Attendance) recorded during the first four days of school. In his presentation to the board, he informed the Trustees that the District has already spent $146,000 more on textbooks and curriculum materials than was budgeted for the 2002-2003 school year. The budget showed an allocation of $200,000. He also indicated the maintenance department reports it has already spent 70% of its contract services allocations for the year - although this is just the first week of school, the district's fiscal year begins July 1.

Both Trustee Chambers and Trustee Pfeiffer questioned whether authorizing this levy would be in keeping with the spirit of the law that provides for emergency levies. Each noted that the district is experiencing an overall decline in enrollment, even though the percentage of students in attendance has been up. They questioned whether this would constitute an “unanticipated increase” in students and asked how it would impact the district financially to have the students who are enrolled actually sitting in their seats. Pfeiffer stated she did not see that it would create a burden since their being in school did not create a need for additional teachers or classrooms.

Battenschlag told the Board that additional funds generated by improving attendance have already been budgeted for and spent. However, when the discussion was opened to public comment, a patron noted that the amount shown in the budget was only one half of what the District has adopted as a goal for this year. The grassroots community group which has been working to identify possible savings and new revenues had made a recommendation to the Board, at its August meeting, that increasing attendance by 2% could generate $500,000.

Members of the community pointed out to trustees there are ways to reduce expenditures while complying with negotiated agreements as to teacher/student ratios. Some would require examination of District philosophy on matters such as having all employees qualified for benefits, or maintaining schools with as few as 200 students (or less). Another would require movement of teachers from schools with declining enrollment to ones with large class size.

In the end, the prevailing trustees appeared to be influenced by the fact that District 84 homeowners are in the bottom quartile, statewide, in terms of what they pay for education. In addition, they will pay only $7.40 per $100,000 assessed value of their property, approximately $2.00 less than they did last year. The levy will garner for the district $156,178.34.

Emergency levies are allowed under Idaho law for increased expenses associated with increased enrollment in public schools. These levies do not go to the public for a vote; instead, after certification by the county, the assessment is automatically placed on the tax rolls.

A small group of citizens have expressed concern that the passage of this emergency does not adhere to the spirit of the law, given that enrollment has actually decreased within the district, and contend that it might even be illegal. At least one citizen attempted to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office, and says he was told this situation does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General. The group is pursuing other options to protest the emergency levy.

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Landon Otis

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Lake Pend Oreille School District, levy, budget, funding

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