LPOSD School Levy: Voting On Emotion
by Kathy Rose
A small but dedicated group of citizens have attended most of the Lake Pend Oreille School District school board meetings over the past year and a half. They watched issues evolve. They have read the Facilities Master Plan in its entirety and many other documents.
The school board will not answer questions or allow feedback during the course of their meetings. The public may attend, but comments are restricted to 3 minutes and to the time before agenda items are discussed. Many times issues emerge during the meetings which are not specifically mentioned on the agenda and beg for clarification, but the public’s only option is to sit silently and watch.
Last fall, the Superintendent formed a Facilities Planning Committee without extending an invitation to the public at large. Eight of the 13 members had direct ties to the school, and three others had strong interests to the City of Sandpoint. This was NOT a “broad based group of community members”, as described in the levy mailings. Their meetings were unknown to the public, closed to the public, and there are no minutes to even review.
In the Spring, the school district held informational meetings about the levy at each school, but for staff only. There were no agendas or minutes for these in-house meetings. In fact, some employees were not even allowed to attend. The information was spoon-fed by the Superintendent to those he deemed worthy of the right to know.
In June the Superintendent and School Board Chair sent an informational flyer to staff and parents. Again, they selectively targeted only the education community. There was no outreach to other tax payers. It became obvious they did not want to educate property owners in the general public who would be footing this bill.
A grassroots effort spread like wildfire. Once people looked at the facts surrounding this levy they were outraged. As the message grew, the attacks and threats by levy supporters began. Numerous lawn signs have been stolen in an effort to thwart the opposition.
Now the school district is scrambling, spinning and even changing facts. The message is being blurred by omitting or exaggerating information, parsing words, and injecting complexity where the facts are quite straightforward, all designed to confuse people. Keep in mind, it’s in the school district’s interest to sell you this levy. In fact, it has been referred to by district insiders as a facilities “legacy” for LPOSD. So is it really about the children?
The Facilities Planning Committee rated the Alternative High School in the worst condition, yet the board refused to discuss it. They decided to push it six years down the road into Phase 2 – yes, that means you can expect another levy.
A new funding mechanism will be instituted if this levy passes. We will be the first school district in the state to go this route, which circumvents the 2/3 voter approval that a bond requires. Yet the district will essentially acquire bond funding through a lease agreement. People need to understand the whole picture of this troubling mechanism.
A major component is that our publicly-owned schools will be turned over to private ownership for the duration of the lease and then bought back for a nominal fee after the 6-year lease is paid off. Should the school district default on or refuse to renew the lease – the certificate holders would have the right to evict students and lease the property to other entities. Is there a Plan B in case this happens? Nobody has talked about it.
In the meantime, the Sandpoint Education Machine is in full force. Some of those who run the local print and radio media also sit on the board of Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE) – the district’s designated foundation and a supporter of all school levies. For years PAFE has run a political action committee, Citizens for Better Schools, out of its premises.
Yes, there is a lot of misinformation out there. The vacuum created by LPOSD has allowed this to happen. Some people have heard false statements such as:
- It’s only for 4 years.
- It’s only going to raise my rent $400 over 4 years.
- The 55 million comes out of Idaho’s budget and the state can afford it.
- The funds will be used for salaries.
The fact is, this will be a six-year levy and is capped at $55,118,997, an amount the district chose because it is the maximum amount allowed by law, not because they had projects that required that amount.
This levy will remove $55,118,997 from the pockets of all property owners in the Lake Pend Oreille School District by doubling the present school tax for the next six years. LPOSD exhibits a cavalier attitude toward property owners.
They have told landlords to just pass it on to their renters. They have told senior citizens to just apply for the Circuit Breaker program. In other words, do what you have to do, but we want your money. Local restaurants and businesses will have to increase the price of their goods and services. The already high cost of living in this beautiful area will increase.
These levy funds can only be used for construction and capital improvements. That being said, the ballot question has no line item costs for the many individual projects. Therefore the dollars have no real accountability, allowing much flexibility in their spending.
The City of Sandpoint will be receiving the bulk of this levy totaling more than $40million. The interest and financing is projected to cost over $4million. That leaves less than $11 million to go to the rural schools, or about 20% of the levy funds.
There is a reasonable approach LPOSD can follow. We have 11 school buildings, and with a 50-year plan we can ease the burden on taxpayers: one school at a time, address the worst building first, in-depth assessments including professional cost projections, full disclosure of all options, and include public input every step of the way.
Don’t vote on emotion. You owe it to yourself to hear both sides. Educate yourself and make an informed decision.