Local taxpayers have shown unflinching support when school officials can justify additional spending through bond issues and levies. But even in these days of full employment and relative economic optimism, there’s an uncrossable line for many voters between committing to smart, sustainable strategies and what looks like reckless spending.
Danger lurks if school officials wander onto the thin ice of perceived reckless spending.
At issue is Coeur d’Alene School District walking the tightrope of framing a funding request for the March ballot that will meet the district’s needs yet prove palatable to voters. Alarms should have been going off during Monday night’s school board meeting.
Buoyed perhaps by encouraging results from a public survey, speakers Monday night — school district employees, basically — broached the subject of asking voters for even more money than the $20 million levy that district officials have in mind. That $20 million already represents an increase of $4 million over the current levy.
The speakers’ theme was this: Unless pay increases significantly, the lure of working in Washington might prove irresistible. Washington is awash in a one-time $2 billion windfall resulting from a decade-long lawsuit. Districts gaining the most from that largesse have raised pay, sometimes in the 12 to 15 percent range. In Mead, a teacher with 15 years experience is on target to make a new salary right at six figures.
In the aftermath of the Washington court decision, Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Allen wrote an excellent analysis (https://bit.ly/2RtYmpU) on the funding feeding frenzy.
“Barely two months ago,” Allen wrote in September, “the Washington Legislature handed its school districts a one-time pile of money to help fulfill the McCleary mandate to fully fund public education, but scant advice on how and when to spend it.
“Teachers seized the moment, saying that McCleary dictated that the entire $2 billion go toward higher salaries — this year.
“Districts hedged, saying that such raises were unsustainable.”
Coeur d’Alene School Board Chairman Casey Morrisroe hit the right chord by challenging the wisdom of asking voters to go even higher than the $20 million levy amount. He said the district’s needs must be balanced against the taxpayers’ needs: “We can’t do everything at once. It’s (the $20 million) a reasonable request; it’s a responsible request.”
Reasonable and responsible works. Unreasonable and irresponsible? Let’s not see where that goes.