COEUR d’ALENE — Coeur d’Alene School District officials sought guidance from board members Monday night about their $16 million supplemental maintenance and operations levy’s future. Superintendent Steve Cook suggested the board consider making it permanent, plus grow it by another $4 million. Cook also touched on a $34 million bond measure for 2020.
The current $16 million levy pays for a host of items that the district funds over and above what the state funds in areas such as coaching stipends, the gifted and talented program, teacher pay, curriculum, security, custodial, utilities, transportation for teams to go to state, buses, and substitute teachers, explained district finance director Katie Ebner.
“It’s sad to see what we’re not funded for by the state,” said board member Tambra Pickford.
Cook said an increase in the supplemental levy could lead to additional funds for certified and classified salaries, additional mental health resources, additional security personnel, and more. The superintendent said thanks to running its supplemental levy for seven years, the district has reached the state threshold of making its supplemental levy permanent if it so desired.
The $4 million of additions Cook proposed included:
• 3.7 percent certified salary increase $1,696,132
• 6 percent classified salary increase $924,221
• District-wide professional development $488,594
• 5 full-time equivalents for mental health resources $374,855
• 5 security personnel $181,964
• School supply budget increases $100,000
• District mental health coordinator $89,965
• Security network technician $79,269
• Music program instruments $65,000
Board member Lisa May asked why all-day kindergarten was not among Cook’s proposed funding additions. Cook said he would love to offer that, but at the moment the district has nowhere to put those kids. May also said she was uncomfortable with permanently funding salaries locally because it would circumvent the state constitution. She said education should be funded at a higher level, but by the state. Paying teachers far more than neighboring Idaho districts do would create an untenable situation like what existed in Washington, she said.
On the other hand, if the district wanted to make cuts, Cook said they would be in areas such as bus purchases, the number of school resource officers, curriculum adoption, and personnel at the district office and in schools. “When 86 percent of your budget is people, significant cuts” inevitably would mean losing some of them, Cook said. The superintendent clearly stated that he was against such cuts, and that any such cuts would be felt significantly across the district.
Ebner said that the five-year trend of a 19.3 percent increase in district expenditures has mainly been the result of rising inflation rates plus the influx of hundreds of new students into the district in recent years.
Ebner and Cook discussed a bond and levy analysis by Eric Heringer and Michael Keith from Piper Jaffray & Co. which looked at three models for future levies and bonds in the district. The analysis assumed that the district would increase its $16 million supplemental maintenance and operations levy to $20 million.
“The $20.0 million levy total could be split up between a Supplemental M&O Levy and a Plant Levy with no material change in the property tax impact,” wrote Heringer and Keith in their analysis. The analysis also assumed a $34 million bond election in 2020. However, the writers added that “The bond could be for less (or more) and/or the amounts could be spread out over a longer period of time.”
The first model assumed that the district’s market values would continue to increase by 6.07 percent annually over the next 20 years, while maintaining a level total tax rate of $2.23 per $1,000. This model resulted in what the writers termed “excess levy capacity,” which would reach $500,000 in 2021 but skyrocket past $50 million by 2038, they wrote. That “excess levy capacity” could be tapped into to pay for future increases in the supplemental maintenance and operations levy, a new plant levy, and/or another bond proposal, they wrote. That excess capacity would exist in addition to the projected $4 million increase in the supplemental maintenance and operations levy and the $34 million bond.
The second model assumed the same growth in market values but did not try to keep a level total tax rate. By levying the minimum number of dollars necessary to make the district’s bond payments, over time the tax rate would decline and the district’s “excess levy capacity” would disappear, noted the analysts, writing “future funding proposals will likely result in the levy rate spiking back up when any additional funding is approved.”
The third model assumed 2 percent market growth, with new construction alone funding growth. A steady tax rate is only helpful if the taxable assessed value remains the same, Ebner said. The goal in this model would be to keep residents’ tax bills at similar dollar amounts, even if their assessments increased, she said.
Board member Tom Hearn said a $34 million bond would not be nearly enough. Cook said the $34 million bond proposal was just an estimate that fit within the various levy models and was not necessarily an ask. It was just levy capacity that would be available, he said.
Cook proposed getting feedback on increasing the levy by $4 million. He wanted to know if voters would be willing to support a local increase in teacher salaries permanently through the levy. If not, he asked if there would be support for the other proposed additions.
May asked that feedback be gathered from district voters unconnected to the district as well as those who have students or employment in the district.
Cook and Casey Morrisroe agreed. “We want to hear from all of our voters,” said the board chairman.
Several presentations and an online survey will be used to get feedback from members of the public prior to the board’s December meeting, said district spokesman Scott Maben. The board will “vote at its Dec. 3 meeting on what levy proposal to refer to the March ballot,” he said.