COEUR d'ALENE - The inaugural public event hosted by a fledgling education advocacy group on Wednesday attracted more than 100 citizens to the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.
Amy Evans, president of the Coeur d'Alene Education Partnership, said she was "thrilled" with the number of people who came out to listen to Coeur d'Alene School District central office administrators provide information about the district's upcoming levy, its multi-school construction project, the Common Core Standards Initiative, and the district's efforts to increase school and building safety. The forum format included several brief, moderated written question-and-answer periods.
"I'm glad the community had the chance to dialogue with the administration," Evans said.
Superintendent Hazel Bauman gave a presentation on the supplemental maintenance and operations levy that will go before voters on March 12.
"Basically what this is, is the mechanism by which we ask property taxpayers if they will voluntarily increase their property tax to, if you will, fill in the gap in funding left by the inadequate revenue stream from the state," Bauman explained.
If approved, the local property tax measure will replace an expiring two-year levy approved by voters in 2011, and keep $12.9 million of the district's current general fund budget intact for each of the next two years. The measure also includes an additional $1.4 million, added to the first year of the levy, to cover the cost of school safety enhancements to all district buildings.
The $12.9 million replacement levy is not expected to increase property taxes, but the school security addition will affect tax bills for the first year of the levy. It is estimated the $1.4 million will cost the owner of a home assessed at $200,000, after the homeowners exemption, $24.80 for one year.
The value for taxpayers, Bauman explained to attendees at the forum, comes from having a high-performing school system with students that score high on state-mandated standardized tests, a high graduation rate, and, referencing the state's new school assessment model, more five-star schools than any other district in Idaho.
Should the levy fail, the district would need to slash its budget by $12.9 million per year for the next two years. Bauman said that would translate into a reduction in staff and programs.
"I think that educators and trustees must aim high for the quality of education that children are going to be given in a community, then it's up to the community to say, 'Yes,' or say 'No,'" Bauman said. "And our ability to provide a quality education to the 10,200 boys and girls would be very, very limited if we just relied on the money coming from the state. It really would not provide that extra quality piece that we have come to know and appreciate, and frankly, get used to, in our system."
Associate Superintendent Matt Handelman familiarized the crowd with the Common Core Standards Initiative, an effort to elevate and align education benchmarks across the states by providing clear educational standards in English language arts and math for kindergarten- to- 12th-grade.
The initiative is being led by the National Governor's Association and the states' top education officials, with input from educators, parents and education experts nationwide. Idaho is among 45 states that have signed on to the initiative. The state plans to have the standards in place by this coming fall.
"In addition to English language arts, it's also literacy in other subject areas, so it hasn't been just our English language arts and math teachers figuring out and working on the core curriculum, but part of the idea is that everyone has a stake in this in helping students with their literacy skills, so we've been working hard at finding ways to integrate the English language arts standards into our current social studies, science, PTE, music, art, PE classes across the district."
Wendell Wardell, the district's chief operating officer, briefly discussed district finances and gave a construction update. Wardell reminded the group that even with successful passage of the levy, the district still faces a $3 million budget gap that school officials have been discussing since last fall. The shortfall is the result of the loss of one-time federal stimulus dollars that school districts received nationwide at the height of the recession.
"I salute the district for how skillfully they managed the federal funds," said Wardell, who was hired by the district last spring, and previously served as a volunteer financial adviser to the district. "Some districts around the country saw it as manna from heaven and their approach was, 'Well, if we use this up, there will be more. This district very carefully budgeted over a period of time, hoping the state funding would return, and it has not."
Wardell said the district is continuing to work with architects and designers on the major renovation projects planned for five district schools - Borah, Bryan, Sorensen, Winton and Canfield.
Before the event ended, Bauman discussed the safety enhancements that will be made to all schools and district buildings using the $1.4 million from the levy.
"We will really be able to make some deterrents, so that anybody thinking that we're an easy target, will be dissuaded that we are not an easy target for there will be things in place that will make it more difficult, more of a burden, to come in and do bad things," Bauman said.
Before closing, Evans said the education group is planning its next event, a nonpartisan trustee debate, likely in April, prior to the May election.
The forum was attended by several of the school district's current trustees: Tom Hamilton, Terri Seymour, Jim Hightower and Ann Seddon.
Following the event, Hamilton said he's grateful for the volunteer effort the Coeur d'Alene Education Partnership is making to help bridge the gap between community members and education leaders.
Doug Jaworski, a parent of children attending district schools, said: "I think this was a nice forum that was constructive and conflict-free."