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Cd'A trustees delay setting levy amount

by MAUREEN DOLAN
Staff Writer | December 7, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - If it were up to Coeur d'Alene School Superintendent Hazel Bauman, the levy amount going before voters March 8 would be at least $11.5 million.

But it's not up to Bauman.

District trustees are tasked with setting the levy amount, and they decided at their regular monthly meeting on Monday to wait another month to do that.

Trustee Bill Hemenway said that in setting the amount they must find the balance between what is best for the students and the community, while bearing in mind the burden they are placing on taxpayers, some who may not be able to afford it.

The process should provide an "arena of partnership," he said, between the board and the public.

"I think we need to continue to glean from the patrons. I've heard from my patrons in Zone 3, but I'd like to hear more. Where is that balance of our partnership so we can do this together?" Hemenway said.

The potential levy amounts were first presented in early November, when Bauman announced the district would not be able to keep a pledge it made to taxpayers in early 2009 to continue reducing the district's dependence on local property tax levy.

The reason more tax dollars are needed is due mainly to cuts in state education funding.

The expiring levy of $7.8 million per year for two years was approved by voters in the spring of 2009, and was $1 million less than the previous expiring two-year levy.

The Coeur d'Alene School District has already cut $8.8 million from its budget since 2009, and faces the loss of another $5 million in one-time funding - federal stimulus and job fund dollars.

Trustees have been considering several options for a new levy.

Bauman is recommending they offer voters a menu-style ballot with the choice of renewing just the $7.8 million levy. Then, voters in favor of the replacing the $7.8 million levy will be able to vote for an additional amount to be added to it.

The early proposals for the amount have been $2.3 million, $3.7 million or $5 million.

The $5 million addition will raise the levy amount to $12.8 million per year for two years, and is the only amount that will stabilize the district's budget, unless there are additional cuts to state education funds during the next legislative session.

Bauman recommended at Monday's meeting that trustees ask taxpayers for at least an additional $3.7 million, up to the $5 million.

Even with voter approval of the $3.7 million for a levy of $11.5 million per year for two years, the district will still experience a shortfall of $1.3 million next year.

Bauman said they could then take $1.3 million from their fund balance reserve and move it into the general fund to make up the difference.

Bauman reminded trustees that they must set the date by their Jan. 10 meeting.

For the first time, the county elections office will be running the school levy election rather than the district, a ramification of Idaho's new election consolidation law.

The county needs the ballot information 45 days prior to the election, she said.

The March 8 election date is also prescribed by the new election consolidation law which limits school districts to four set dates each year to run levies or bond elections.

In other news, trustees postponed taking action to formally adopt a policy that would limit public participation at their regular monthly school board meetings.

Four of the five trustees voted in favor of tabling the decision with board chair Edie Brooks casting the dissenting vote.

Trustees began enforcing the policy at their October meeting while it was going through the district's policy review procedure.

They no longer accept public comments that are not related to an item on the meeting's agenda, and the public is also prohibited from using personal audio or video equipment to record the meetings.

Citizen Dan Gookin addressed the board, and noted that the school district administration and the teachers are each represented at board meetings.

"The people who represent the public are you. You represent us, and that means all of us," Gookin said. "I know it's really easy to represent people who agree with you, and people who are pretty much on the same page, but when it comes to people who disagree, who have other opinions, who may have something you really don't want hear, that's your job, as trustees is to hear those issues, those complaints. It's uncomfortable, but that's the way our system works, and I'd really like to see more of that."

Trustee Hemenway suggested they wait to decide on the policy adoption so they could "reflect on" what Gookin said.

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