Ida­hoans tax­ing them­selves a record $202M for schools

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - LOCAL - BY KEVIN RICHERT Ida­hoed­news.org

Idaho school districts will col­lect a record $202.2 mil­lion in voter-ap­proved sup­ple­men­tal prop­erty tax levies this year.

This is the first time the sup­ple­men­tal levy bill has ex­ceeded the $200 mil­lion mark. A year ago, Idaho schools col­lected $194.7 mil­lion — a short-lived record.

Districts can and do use sup­ple­men­tal levies for a va­ri­ety of pur­poses — in­clud­ing teacher salaries and ben­e­fits, class­room tech­nol­ogy and text­books. And many school of­fi­cials say the one- to two-year levies are no longer sup­ple­men­tal, but in­stead help pay for es­sen­tials.

Idaho’s sup­ple­men­tal tax bill has nearly dou­bled over the past decade. The levies are a fact of life in districts large and small — from Coeur d’alene, which will col­lect $16 mil­lion this year, to Mackay, which will col­lect $75,000.

All told, 93 of Idaho’s 115 school districts have a sup­ple­men­tal levy, a num­ber that has re­mained vir­tu­ally un­changed for the past five years.

But while the vast ma­jor­ity of school districts con­tinue to rely on ex­tra help from lo­cal tax­pay­ers, the pic­ture of school fund­ing is blurry. A leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee has rec­om­mended an over­haul of Idaho’s school fund­ing for­mula — a com­pli­cated re­write that fig­ures to be one of the hottest is­sues in the 2019 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Un­der the lat­est ver­sion of the new for­mula, en­dorsed Mon­day by the com­mit­tee, 36 districts and char­ters stand to re­ceive fewer dol­lars from the state.

If law­mak­ers change the way the state carves up its ed­u­ca­tion bud­get — which is by no means a sure thing — this could af­fect lo­cal tax bills.

Many dis­trict lead­ers “hate hav­ing to rely” on short-term lo­cal levies, said Rob Winslow, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Idaho As­so­ci­a­tion of School Ad­min­is­tra­tors. The “win­ners” — districts that re­ceive more state fund­ing un­der a new for­mula — could sim­ply let their lo­cal levies ex­pire. But by the same to­ken, districts that lose state fund­ing could need levies more than ever.

At least in the short run, Winslow doesn’t ex­pect the sup­ple­men­tal levy pic­ture to change much. “It’s all early,” he said Wed­nes­day.

The ris­ing sup­ple­men­tal levy bill il­lus­trates short­com­ings in Idaho’s K-12 bud­get, other ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers said this week.

The $200 mil­lion pretty much mir­rors the money districts and char­ters put into teacher salaries, sup­ple­ment­ing the state’s salary line item, said Quinn Perry, the Idaho School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion’s pol­icy and govern­ment af­fairs direc­tor. The ISBA, the IASA and the Idaho Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion want law­mak­ers to leave the state’s teacher salary bud­get line item in­tact, rather than fold­ing that money into a new fund­ing for­mula.

Re­vamp­ing the fund­ing for­mula won’t go far enough, IEA Pres­i­dent Kari Over­all said Wed­nes­day. The state needs to back that up with a five- to 10-year plan to in­vest in schools.

“The $202.2 mil­lion in sup­ple­men­tal levies clearly il­lus­trates what we have long un­der­stood — Idaho’s schools re­ceive in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing from the state,” she said. “Districts in­creas­ingly must rely on ad­di­tional fund­ing from lo­cal tax­pay­ers to en­sure ba­sic pro­grams are pro­vided for Idaho stu­dents.”

State su­per­in­ten­dent Sherri Ybarra takes a dif­fer­ent view. She was ap­pointed to work with leg­is­la­tors on the fund­ing for­mula re­write. Through a spokesman, Scott Phillips, Ybarra said the com­mit­tee worked dili­gently on the new for­mula. She also re­peated a re­frain from her fall re-elec­tion cam­paign — point­ing out that the state has in­creased K-12 spend­ing by $100 mil­lion a year over the past four years.

“These are good signs, en­cour­ag­ing signs and cer­tainly a step in the right di­rec­tion,” Phillips said Thurs­day.

Like Ybarra, state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Pres­i­dent Linda Clark served on the fund­ing for­mula com­mit­tee. Clark points out that the state’s grow­ing re­liance on sup­ple­men­tal levies has been a long time com­ing — go­ing back to 2006, when law­mak­ers and then-gov. Jim Risch shifted more than $200 mil­lion of school fund­ing onto the state’s sales tax. That shift didn’t fully cover a cut in lo­cal fund­ing, and it forced nu­mer­ous districts to go to vot­ers for help.

Clark sees some hope in the fund­ing for­mula re­write.

“Per­haps over time the new for­mula may re­lieve some of the pres­sure on lo­cal tax­pay­ers to pro­vide stop­gap fund­ing for school main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions,” she said.

States­man file photo

Ada County home val­ues have in­creased, which means prop­erty tax bills likely will too.

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