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K.C. MacDonald has taught government and civics for four years at Clark Fork High School. K.C. MacDonald has taught government and civics for four years at Clark Fork High School.

Supplemental levy is critical for keeping teachers

“... They should be cutting expenses, tightening their belt, just like everyone else has to.” That’s Sagle resident Don Sander’s response to Lake Pend Oreille School District’s decision to run a supplemental levy this February 24 for almost $11 million. Sanders’ opinion has been widely circulated via an email that asserts, “it’s imperative we vote NOT THIS TIME!”

Superintendent Dick Cvitanich’s response? “How tight do they want the belt to be?” Cvitanich says that the district has already been squeezing its budget, but that operating without a supplemental levy would make the tourniquet so tight, it might just kill the patient.

So how tight is that belt? Over the last three years, the district has cut supply budgets by 40 percent. This year’s budget cut 22 teachers, three administrators and 14 support staff personnel. In planning for the upcoming school year, 2009-2010, the district has already cut all elementary counselors (two full-time positions), cut two teachers from Sandpoint High School, and cut three teachers from the elementary Upper Quartile Program (a learning program for high-achieving students). They have eliminated all field trips that are not reimbursed by the state, cut the extra-curricular budget by $74,000, reduced administration and clerical budgets at the district office by $60,000, cut computer purchases by $200,000 and cut the extended-day Kindergarten program by $142,000. In addition, they have eliminated the program for reducing overcrowding in classrooms.

Then the economy went into freefall and in January, Governor Otter requested that the legislature cut funding for K-12 education by 5.35 percent next year. (Budget writers cut about $18.5 million more than Otter’s requests from various budgets and put that money into the general fund. Republican senators have said public education would get first priority for those dollars. However, it’s expected that sales tax revenues from holiday shopping will be lower than anticipated, and Gov. Otter might ask for an additional two percent cut beyond what was already taken.)

If applied across the board, that loss of revenue would require the district to further cut salaries and benefits by $1.15 million—at its most simplistic level, that roughly translates to losing an additional 18 teachers and 17 support personnel though the actual losses would be higher. That’s because staffing cuts, due to contract requirements, are based on a first hired/first fired schedule, and staff with lower seniority are also the staff paid the lowest salaries.

As if that picture is not bleak enough, the district is in its final year of a supplemental levy. For over a decade voters in the district have approved a regular supplemental levy every two years; should they fail to do so again this year, an additional 100 positions would have to be cut—our local schools would lose approximately 53 certified staff and 47 classified staff.

Who are those people? No one yet knows, because until the exact loss of funding is realized, no one can plan how to address it. While a 30-year teacher may be the least likely to be cut in terms of seniority, if that teacher is only certified to teach classes considered extra-curricular, and the extra-curricular programs are eliminated, that teacher will be out of a job. (See sidebar on page 38 for a list of the bottom 75 certified staff members based on seniority.)

So what about that extra-curricular? The football programs, Academic Decathlon classes, music and band instruction, newspapers and yearbooks—these are all funded through the supplemental levy and might cease to exist should that levy fail. Although some extra-curricular programs are self-supporting (for example, newspapers and yearbooks typically pay for themselves via advertising and the sale of the product), staffing for those programs is paid for with levy funds, and without a teacher or coach, the program cannot continue. Staff will be left with the unenviable task of deciding whether a band teacher might be kept by doubling up students in an English class and eliminating an English teacher.

Other items that would be lost without levy dollars include technology; student access to computers would have to be limited to the state-mandated testing, which must be done on a computer. In addition, there would be no new purchases in curriculum materials unless required by the state.

In response, Sanders says, “The economy is now in free fall, folks are getting laid off work, student population levels have decreased. Foreclosures are up. Stores are going our of business. Even Microsoft... announced a layoff of 5,000 jobs. Everybody is tightening their belts and now they want us to agree to provide  $10,995,000?”

Cvitanich responds, “Kids are not widgets that can be set on the shelf for two years while the economy gets better... they still need what they need every year; a good solid education. I don’t know that we would be providing this if the levy fails.”

He also encourages people to think about what happens to our community as a whole if the school district, the second largest employer in the county, loses one-third of its entire budget. “We’re told that every dollar spent locally circulates in the local economy another six times,” he explained. “What is the impact of losing the purchasing power of 135 employees? Those employees currently represent about $8.7 million in salaries and benefits, at least some portion of which is spent right here in our local businesses. Will your personal economic position improve if it has to absorb that kind of loss in the local market? Do you think all those people can find work locally so they can stay here and raise their families?”

But can you give what you don’t have? “No,” Cvitanich agrees, but he’s hoping that you can give what you’re already giving.

“The School Board structured this levy proposal to ensure that the taxes for our district’s taxpayers remain flat in 2010 and drop by 45 percent in year 2011. In other words, our taxpayers can project that the amount they are currently paying in 2009 for the school district will remain unchanged for 2010,” explained Lisa Hals, the district’s budget manager.

 “Here’s an example of how this works. Suppose that your house is currently assessed by the county for $200,000, and you carry the homeowner’s exemption. This means your property tax is based on a value of $100,000. Currently, you’re paying $83 for the second year of the supplemental levy which expires June 30, 2009, and $127 for the first year of the plant facility levy, for a total of $210 in property tax support for your local schools.

“If voters approve this levy, then next year (beginning December 20) you  will pay $84 for the first year of this supplemental levy, and $126 for  the second year of the plant facility levy—no increase in tax at all. The following year, you will pay only $117 for the second year of this supplemental levy.”

Voters will have an opportunity to decide whether or not to support the district’s request on February 24.  Polls will be open from 8 am to 8 pm at all schools except Sandpoint Middle School and Lake Pend Oreille Alternative High School. The district office is only an absentee polling site and will not be open for voting on February 24.

An absentee ballot request form is available on the district’s website at www.lposd.org (not the ballot itself) for those who want to vote absentee by mail and who are already registered to vote.  For those who want to vote absentee in person, the district office is available now through February 23, Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 4 pm. Anyone who needs to register to vote may do so at any polling site or at the district office if they vote absentee. For more information call 208-263-2184.

Disclaimer: For five years I have worked with students at Clark Fork High School to produce their newspaper and yearbook. For the last two years, I have been paid a coaching stipend (approximately $1,500) to do so. Although my plan is not to return next year (my youngest child graduates this year), my position is one that would be cut should the levy fail.

Click here to see how positions are cut.

Click here to see the bottom 74 teachers in the seniority list for LPOSD.

Click here for an opinion on federal stimulus and whether it helps Idaho education. Posted 02/16/2009

Photo info:  K.C. MacDonald has taught government and civics for four years at Clark Fork High School. He’s an assistant football coach, a golf coach, and runs a service project that takes kids into the community to perform service such as snow shoveling for those in need. He has come in early each day to provide tutoring for students, and this year he was named the Idaho Teacher of the Year by the VFW. MacDonald is also in the bottom 75 certified staff in terms of seniority, and is concerned that he will lose his job. “I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens,” he said, “but I don’t see any way that I could continue to live in North Idaho.” Photo by Amy Gannon

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Lake Pend Oreille School District, budget, funding, Dick Cvitanich, Supplemental levy, staffing, Don Sanders, Lisa Hals

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