“LPOSD’s Financial Future Solid” proclaimed the headline in the Bonner County Daily Bee on April 2 of this year. That was a couple of weeks after the latest supplemental levy of $25.4 million – an all-time high amount and a 49% increase over the previous one – had passed.
Six weeks later, lo and behold, we learned that “LPOSD Weighs Permanent Levy”. What happened?
For years we were told by the previous LPOSD school board chair, Steve Youngdahl, that LPOSD has no interest in a permanent levy. School board minutes as far back as November 2016 reveal that “Chair Youngdahl said he would absolutely like to see a two-year levy only and not a permanent levy.” At a Bonner County Republican Central Committee meeting he went a step further, saying that no permanent levy was under consideration because it would mean that they couldn’t raise the levy amounts anymore.
It was quite a reveal of the school district’s attitude, by the person chairing the levy process, no less.
Fast forward to May 2019. Current school board chair Cary Kelly, flush with funds from the March levy and a gushing narrative about LPOSD’s “solid financial future”, suddenly sees the need for levy permanency. He suspects the window for a permanent levy will close in next year’s legislative session, meaning supplemental levies that require voter approval every two years will be the only option. LPOSD’s CFO Hals goes on record describing such voter approval as “less than ideal”. Ah yes, the pesky voters! In recent years they’ve been saying No to supplemental levies in steadily rising numbers, from 30% in 2015 to 44% in 2019. The writing is on the wall; voters are getting fed up with levies, and the next one could be a loser.
A public meeting seeking community input on a permanent levy was quickly put in place by the school board. The audience of some 40 citizens, many of them current and former school employees, weighed in and, unsurprisingly, school-affiliated individuals preferred a permanent levy. Opponents had a number of concerns, none of which were mentioned by school employees. Among them were a lack of trust in the board’s transparency; fear that it would continue or get worse if voters were effectively sidelined for years to come; the communication generated in two-year levies would disappear; and negative reports from taxpayers to the Legislature in the five districts with permanent levies were brought up.
But within a month the permanent levy proposal was approved by the school board.
On November 5 you will therefore be voting on a permanent supplemental levy (the new term is “indefinite term supplemental levy”) in the amount of $12.7 million per year, which is the amount approved last March for each of the next two years. If approved in November, LPOSD is guaranteed this amount as a permanent baseline beginning in 2021 and continuing indefinitely. Voters, however, have no guarantee that it will stay at that amount. The school board admits that it can ask for additional funding at a future date.
This levy will strip taxpayers of the right to vote on supplemental levies and permanently ties this debt to future generations. Our children currently in the education system will find it harder to afford to live in Bonner County. It is already difficult to find local affordable housing and good paying jobs. We are giving them little choice but to leave.
I am a long-time resident of Bonner County, parent of two children and small business owner.
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