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Making cuts, may have to increase taxes through levy

by Brian Walker
| December 27, 2010 8:00 PM

Editor's note: Last week The Press concluded a series looking at per-resident spending by city throughout Kootenai County. Now we shift our focus to school districts in the county.

POST FALLS - The Post Falls School District has made more than $3 million in cuts over the past two years and may have to ask for an increase in taxes in a March levy to avoid job losses.

"We have already made major cuts across the board," Superintendent Jerry Keane said. "I am afraid that, if we are forced to make additional cuts, we will need to make significant cuts in personnel. The impact will directly affect what opportunities we offer to students."

The district's total anticipated expenditures this fiscal year are $36.7 million. With 5,600 total students, about $6,561 is being spent per student.

The total spending amount is down from $45.3 million in fiscal 2010 and $44.9 million in fiscal 2009.

Similarly, the district's General Fund budget is down this year to $26.6 million from $29.8 million in 2010.

Reductions for this year include, but are not limited to:

• $700,000, district reserves;

• $400,000, employee compensation;

• $160,000, support personnel;

• $80,000, transportation;

• $75,000, maintenance;

• $70,000, technology;

• $70,000, activities;

• $60,000, building supplies; and

• $50,000, administration.

Keane said the district's budget philosophy hasn't changed with the lower budget.

"We have been attempting to make reductions that have the least impact on student opportunities," he said. "The other goal has been to preserve as many jobs as possible. Not only do we want to support our hard-working employees, but to not contribute to greater economic problems."

However, job and program preservation may take a hit without help from a supplemental levy on March 8.

"We have made cuts to all programs and are now facing the need to cut critical student offering in order to stay solvent," Keane said "We are trying to balance those needs with the need to protect our patrons who are also in difficult financial shape."

The district has used $850,000 in stimulus funding for special education and Title I reading for each of the past two years to fill holes in its General Fund created by a loss in state funds, but that money won't be available next year.

"That money has been used to keep people employed over the past two years," Keane said.

The school board on Jan. 10 will decide on a levy amount - likely $500,000 or $880,00 per year for two years. The $500,000 proposal would not increase taxes, but the $880,000 amount would increase taxes by $12 per year for the owner of an average ($184,000 value) home.

"We're discussing how to raise additional revenue without having a major impact on our patrons," Keane said. "I am not confident (the $500,000 proposal) is enough to try to maintain our current student program."

The district has had to ask voters to supplement the state's appropriation with a levy for at least the past 25 years. The money has been used to prop up technology, curriculum, maintenance and other programs.

A vote of at least 50 percent would be needed for the proposal to pass.

The district has four schools that it has outstanding debt on, including: Prairie View, $895,000; West Ridge, $8,095,000; Post Falls High, $9,035,000; and Kootenai Technical Education Campus (KTEC), $2,250,000.

The district has no current construction projects, and positions and salaries have not increased during the recession.

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