Student attendance is on the rise at Kootenai County’s three largest school districts and emergency levy funding was approved Friday in two districts to accommodate that growth.
Based on the average daily attendance of the first three days of school, Lakeland Joint School District has 4,315 students, an increase of 82 students from last year; Coeur d’Alene has 10,577, an increase of 66; and Post Falls 5,914, a rise of 50.
Trustees on school boards in Coeur d’Alene and the Lakeland districts decided to exercise elective taxing authority granted under state law that allows boards in growing districts to seek property tax relief at the start of each school year, without voter approval. The funds are to cover the costs of educating additional students for whom the district is not yet receiving a state appropriation. Emergency levy eligibility is determined by comparing the average daily attendance of the first three days of school with the previous year’s numbers.
The Lakeland School Board approved an emergency levy amount of $420,414.
“The overall economy has picked up, Kootenai County is growing and we’re certainly catching some of that,” said Brian Wallace, Lakeland’s chief financial officer. “Most of the area is growing, but we’re seeing it especially in the Lancaster (Road) corridor.”
After deliberation Friday morning during a meeting at Coeur d’Alene School District’s Midtown Center, school board members approved an emergency levy of $219,588, although they could have levied more.
The influx of 66 students allowed the district, under Idaho Code, to levy up to $333,366.
Trustees decided to take the lower amount because it will keep the district’s property tax levy rate at $2.31 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, a commitment Coeur d’Alene school trustees made earlier this year to voters who approved a supplemental maintenance and operations levy for $16 million per year for two years.
Prior to voting on the levy, trustees heard from several central office administrators who detailed how the money will be spent — primarily to hire classroom assistants to help support teachers with large classrooms this year. Schools with high attendance the first few days of school were Winton Elementary with 29 more students than it had last year and Lakes Magnet Middle School with 43 more students.
The decision to approve the emergency property tax relief was not unanimous in Coeur d’Alene.
Trustees Casey Morrisroe and Dave Eubanks voted against the measure.
“We have asked our taxpayers here in this year, 2017, for a whole lot of help with our schools. The amount of money we’re asking for is a drop in the bucket for a homeowner, I believe, for most people, but it’s a philosophical and political statement I think that we need to make, and that would be we’re going to find some other way to handle this if possible,” Eubanks said.
Morrisroe said he agreed with Eubanks.
“I know we have a need, but at some point — and I know we’re in a state that lacks funding and we have a lot of disadvantages, but we can’t always go to the well. We’ve got to ease up on our taxpayers a little bit, even though they’re supportive,” Morrisroe said.
Trustees Tambra Pickford, Lisa May and Tom Hearn, who is out of town but participated by telephone, each said they voted in favor of the emergency levy because it kept a promise to taxpayers while meeting the needs of students.
“This is not an easy decision for anyone up here. To burden our taxpayers is not something I take lightly,” May said.
The Post Falls school board elected to not seek the emergency property tax relief.
Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said that while the district is growing, the school trustees decided against a levy because the growth was only about 1 percent.
“We continue to grow but not at a phenomenal pace, and that’s OK because too much growth is hard to keep up with,” Keane said. “We ran a supplemental levy last year based on not increasing taxes if we didn’t have to, so we’re sticking to that pledge.”
To fund Lakeland’s emergency levy dollars, the owner of a $250,000 home will see an increase in property taxes of $23.55 per year.
Wallace said the district’s levy amount, which is the maximum the district could’ve taken, is about half of what it was last year.
Lakeland’s biggest growth is at Lakeland High (59 students), Betty Kiefer Elementary (29) and Timberlake High (26). Lakeland Junior High, meanwhile, is down 58.
Wallace said Lakeland restricted out-of-district students from entering the system during the first week of school, but will now accommodate requests in schools that have extra space.
He said the growth has the district searching for five additional teachers.