LPOSD’s Callous Disregard For Citizens Finances
Bonner County Republican Central Committee
Victoria Zeischegg, Chairman
Lake Pend Oreille School District’s latest biennial supplemental levy vote comes up on March 12. Its track record of levy increases is well known, but this time the 49% jump to $25.4 million gives even previous levy supporters cause for pause.
It seems appropriate to provide a little history and context regarding these supplemental levies, because that information tends to get lost over time.
This will be the tenth biennial supplemental levy since fiscal years 2000-2001. At that time, it was $2.917 million and the district had 4,061 students. The upcoming levy at $25.4 million constitutes a 770% increase, but enrollment is now down to 3,841. A caveat about that enrollment figure: it includes about 125 home school students, who are part-time and can attend as little as 2-1/2 hours a week.
LPOSD has never regained its enrollment of 4,061 and gradually reached a low of 3,588 in 2014. If you created a graph of enrollment vs. levies over these past 19 years, it would look like an “X” – levies going up, enrollment going down.
LPOSD’s justification always begins with the recurring generic mantras of “Vote Yes for Schools” and “Vote Yes for Kids”. Voters are expected to trust and approve the district’s assessment of its “needs”. Few citizens have the time to attend the lengthy school board meetings or delve into the convoluted levy development process, or what is actually in the levies. But considering that even the school administration admits that 84% of the levy is for salaries and benefits, it’s difficult to accept the claim that “it’s for the kids”.
That claim is even less credible when considering that in this levy’s $21 million salary amount are $7million just for salary increases. The justification given by the superintendent and chief financial officer is that these are needed to retain and recruit employees and be competitive with area school districts and because of our area’s high housing cost.
In examining those justifications, LPOSD payroll records reveal that school employees – teachers, administrators, and other staff – are actually paid quite well, and there is little employee turnover in those well-paid ranks. 219 have salaries substantially above the county’s median income. Half of them make between $40K and $60K, 91 make between $60K and $80K, nine make between 80K and $95K, and five are above $100K. At the high end of the six-figure salaries are the superintendent and the CFO.
Furthermore, according to staffing information on the Idaho Department of Education’s website, LPOSD has been steadily adding both certified and non-certified employees over the past several years. Why this would be necessary in light of declining or stagnant enrollment has never been explained.
More staffing is planned in this levy: increase full-day kindergarten; add school-based mental health clinics; additional elementary school counselors; and another school resource officer. This is government growth on steroids and is the foundation of not just this levy’s unprecedented amount but guarantees future levies of even higher amounts.
Levies raise school taxes, and once in place, every new levy increases them. They impact housing affordability, a fact well known to the school administration but dismissed with the superintendent’s comment last November that “people know they can afford more house if they go somewhere else out of our district.”
Nothing illustrates LPOSD’s callous disregard for citizens’ financial situation better than that. A revision of its budget and levies is sorely needed to bring them in line with what our area can afford.
We urge residents to turn out to vote against this levy to avoid what has been the case in previous levy votes when school employees and their families dominated turnout in order to grant themselves their next big pay raise.
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