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Tech school levy in works

by Brian Walker
| April 14, 2010 9:00 PM

A tentative levy proposal by three local school districts to fund a professional-technical school on the Rathdrum Prairie has surfaced after months of talks.

The Post Falls, Lakeland and Coeur d'Alene school boards are expected next month to consider authorizing a two-year plant facility levy for a 50,000-square-foot building estimated to cost $9.5 million. The school would expand professional-technical opportunities for area students.

If the school boards decide to move forward with a levy, the three districts would hold separate elections in August. Fifty-five percent voter approval would be needed in each district for the measures to pass.

Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said the Kootenai Technical Education Campus committee is proceeding with the talks cautiously, especially after further cuts to the state's public education budget and a lingering uncertain economy.

"This is not a great time to do this, but this has been a project in line for us for several years," Keane said. "We haven't found a perfect time. As of now, we're going to continue our dialogue."

Coeur d'Alene's share would be about $5.4 million, Post Falls' $2.2 million and Lakeland's $1.9 million. The amounts were determined by enrollment and property values.

Keane said the proposal would not increase taxes in Post Falls. Tom Taggart, Lakeland's finance director, said the levy would raise taxes in that district about $31 per year for the owner of a $180,000 home.

The cost to a taxpayer in the Coeur d'Alene District would be .29 cents per $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. Coeur d'Alene Superintendent Hazel Bauman said the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $29.37 per year for two years.

Coeur d'Alene trustees will hear one more informational presentation on the project at their regularly scheduled meeting on May 3. They are expected to take action on it at a special meeting on May 10. Bauman said this will give trustees two opportunities to hear patron input before voting on the issue.

Keane said his district is in the position of asking for funding for the project without raising taxes because they have consistently layered facility and other levy taxing obligations in a manner that makes that possible.

For example, the current seven-year levy that built River City Middle School will be retired in 2011, thus creating room for this project and others that may be needed without raising current school taxes.

Post Falls' next major project to seek funding for is a River City Middle School addition in about three years.

"This (levy) would be off the books by the time we do that," Keane said. "It appears, from knowing what our facility needs are, that this wouldn't interfere with our ability to do that project as well."

For Lakeland, the proposal would come on the heels of that district's two-year supplemental levy vote on May 18. That levy - $3.25 million per year for two years - would increase taxes by about $48 per year for those who own a home valued at $180,000. Salaries and benefits in the district would be cut by $850,000 even if the levy is approved.

Taggart said the district realizes two levies in the same year will be difficult, but Lakeland voters have a history of supporting schools, and the KTEC project has a lot of momentum with the districts and businesses working together.

"We'll just have to see what happens," Taggart said. "Everybody sees this as a great opportunity."

The KTEC committee identified four main programs for the professional-technical school initially that will, at a minimum, be offered during two sessions each day. Those include automotive technician, welding, construction and health occupations.

"Other successful PTE programs such as The Coeur d'Alene Resort Academy of Lakeland High School (a hospitality/tourism program) would also become a part of the KTEC and be offered in the afternoon only, as it is currently," said Brad Murray, Lakeland's assistant superintendent.

School officials admit there isn't an easy answer to the question of what will happen if the levy passes in one or two of the districts and not another.

"We don't have a specific answer," Keane said. "Scaling down is a possibility. We'll have to see what we can get done, then re-load if necessary."

The law allows the districts to proceed on the project if two districts approve, Taggart said.

"If only one district passes, maybe that's an indication we're not headed in the right direction and would have to regroup," Taggart said.

Keane said the districts are heading into uncharted territory with a levy involving three districts.

"It's definitely different from anything I've been a part of," he said.

The building will be metal and concrete with an administrative area and program labs. It will resemble many manufacturing buildings.

Local businesses have provided input to the school districts on the most-needed programs and will play a role in equipping the building.

Businesses have also purchased 10 acres for the high school, and Rathdrum Prairie landowners, the Meyer brothers, including Walt, Wallace and the late Wayne, donated 10 acres to the project.

North Idaho College has purchased adjacent property for future expansion of its trades and industries programs.

Taggart said the long-term vision of the overall campus is "amazing" and the districts hope the community keeps that in mind.

"We expect this will be kind of a slow buildup, but will become something unique in the area," he said.

Staff writer Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.

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