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Some Priest River residents buck the trend of "no new taxes"

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Some Priest River residents buck the trend of "no new taxes"

Resident input guides board into asking for a $2.3 million school levy. Vote to take place May 17.

A surprising and possibly unprecedented thing happened at the West Bonner School District’s third informational meeting held in the Priest River Lamanna High School cafeteria May 30 for the purpose of approving next year’s supplemental school levy. The board came to the final meeting with a reworked figure from two earlier discussions of $1.9 million. However, by the time the meeting ended, the attendees, sparked by Zone 5 trustee Phil Hixson, speaking via speaker phone from Florida, convinced the trustees to go with a higher figure to help fund the 2011-12 school year.

The Board came to the final meeting prepared to approve the $1.9 million figure, an amount that included an estimated carryover deficit of $150,000 from the current year’s budget. Eventually, however, the Board agreed to up the one-year levy figure to $2,350,000. That includes the anticipated deficit, along with $1,196.340 for salaries and benefits. The breakdown of the salaries and benefits figure amounts to $521,130 in salaries and benefits for teachers, $451,609 in salaries and benefits for classified staff, and $57,983 in salaries and benefits for principals/administrators. The figures represent about 25 percent of the gross of each employee’s salary.

The levy figure also includes:

One half of general fund health insurance premiums­—$222,193.55

Junior high library technician (15 hours per week)—4,781.00

School resource officers—$50,000

All co-curricular expenses (sports, music,drama, etc.)—$305,618

Critical facility repairs/maintenance—$165,000 

Emergency critical equipment repair—8,000

Technology—$50,000

Gifted and Talented—$6,000

Library and school funds—$68,784

Copy paper—$10,274

Curriculum (Elementary reading/math curriculum materials)—$53,000

AcaDeca—$3,000 

Longevity stipends—$25,954

Community building usage (evenings/weekend, utilities/custodial)—$47,000

Tuition credit payments—$10,000

Total: $2,350,000

A reserve of $196,249 is also built into the new levy amount. Its purpose is to help counteract the continued deep cuts in state support of education ($47 million statewide for next year) and the anticipated 2011-12 District 83 deficit. Speakers pointed to the fact that as state support of schools keeps dropping, the district gets farther and farther behind, a situation that shouldn’t be allowed to continue. 

PRLHS teacher Gary Stewart voiced his sentiments. “The working proposal is not enough,” he said. “We can’t be afraid to ask taxpayers to support education.” He said he currently pays $4.98 per month for education and $12.77 per month for garbage service. 

Support for a larger levy was even voiced by one high school senior who said he’d come to the meeting intending to vote against a levy, but had changed his mind after hearing about the need.

District 83 has had to cut its budget for the past two years, according to Superintendent Mike McGuire, in spite of the passage of the last levy in 2010. McGuire said later he had mixed feelings about the new levy the trustees approved to send to the voters, because he knows the area the district encompasses has “a real habit of squeezing the dollars for education” and he understands the economic challenges. But, he added, “We’re doing what we need to do for students; it is a proper number.”

This year’s cuts will include moving PREP Alternative High School this summer out of the portables it now occupies into the annex at Priest River Junior High. Employees will be paying more for benefits, and all reductions made two years ago will continue, when the vice principal positions at PRLHS and PRJH were dropped and custodians were reduced by four positions. Those cuts resulted in a budget savings of $984,000, he said, adding ‘We have good people doing 120 percent every day.”

McGuire doesn’t even have a secretary; instead, a secretary mans the telephone at the front desk of the District Office. The superintendent also serves as the alternative high school principal and is responsible for the Title IIA Professional development program as well. 

Idaho Hill principal Susie Luckey also doubles as Title 1 director, has charge of the Homeless program and is the tutor evaluator as well. Junior high principal Gary Go travels to Priest Lake one day a week to double as elementary school principal there, and monitors detention at noon at the junior high. 

Alternative school head teacher Liz Cork teaches a high school after-school credit recovery class, for no charge at all, two afternoons a week. “She does that out of the goodness of her heart,” McGuire said.

The finalized levy numbers also resulted from a poll of community members through a survey posted on the district website. The strongest support went for emergency critical equipment repair, unfunded classified salaries and benefits, curriculum, and facility improvements. Respondents expressed lesser support (under 40 percent) for the high school athletic director secretary position, tuition credit payments, junior high and high school athletic director total expenses, and the longevity stipend.

Taxpayers can go to the district website () to see how much the new levy will cost them if it is approved at the polls. The figures per $1,000 of assessed property value are posted there. For additional assistance, contact Debra Buttrey at 448-4439 or email Debra Buttrey(at)westbonnerschools.org.

According to an informational brochure available at the District Office, WBCSD has the fourth lowest tax rate in the State of Idaho in the latest publication of the “Tax Levies for School Purposes.”

On May 17, community members can cast their ballots for or against  the levy at one of eight polling places: Priest River Elementary, Priest River Lamanna High School, Idaho Hill Elementary, Priest Lake Elementary, Laclede Community Center, Blanchard Grange, Edgemere Grange, and Blue Lake Grange.

So… how is the district doing when it comes to educating its student population? McGuire said there are two big yardsticks to use as a measure: graduation rate and Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP, a federal requirement. The graduation rate at PRLHS hovers consistently at around 90 percent, he said, and last year the entire district made AYP.

District 83 currently employs about 170 people, he said, and has 75 teachers.

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Marylyn Cork

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Homepage, Headlines, education, Priest River, Supplemental levy, West Bonner School District, education funding, Phil Hixson, Gary Stewart, Mike McGuire, Susie Luckey, Gary Go, Liz Cork

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