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Post Falls down, but not out

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | March 11, 2021 1:09 AM

POST FALLS — A harsh reality began to settle over the Post Falls School District as levy election results rolled in Tuesday night.

The lead looked strong with the first wave, reflecting votes cast mostly in favor of the $4.955 million-per-year replacement/supplemental levy.

The tide turned with a later update, showing the ayes just four votes ahead of the nays. Then it was two votes.

The final tally was grim: The measure was sunk by 33 votes.

"The initial vote looked really good, but then I realized those were all absentee ballots," 21-year Post Falls School Board Trustee Michelle Lippert said Wednesday. "I was worried that our lead would start to go down, and, obviously, it did.

"At one point we were up by four, then up by two, then the next we were down by 33, which was pretty shocking."

The rejection came as a surprise as three other local school district levies were approved Tuesday. The Lakeland School District's levy narrowly passed, 2,712 to 2,659, while the Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai school district levies were easily approved by voters.

In 1998, after four bond measures to build a new high school were shot down, the Post Falls district finally passed a bond issue by one vote. Since then, Lippert said, "everything has been passing with ease."

"We've run really low-key levy campaigns for years" that pass with at least 74% approval, she said. "We did the same thing this year and we got 49.43%. We have to change our strategy for the May one."

Lippert said the next step for the district is to authorize a May election and "have some discussion about what we did this time and how we have to do things next time."

"The divisions are really, really deep right now, and the partisan attitudes are much deeper than ever before," she said. "When we combine the virus with the November election results and the division and the masks, my God, the mask thing, people are just angry, really angry. I think we saw that in this."

The tremendous jump in home valuation in Post Falls also played a role in the outcome, Lippert said. She said the district has received calls from retired people moving to the area who live on fixed incomes and are concerned about being taxed out of their homes.

"The school district has nothing to do with that, because we tax at a dollar amount," she said. "We don't get anything more because the dollar value of your house went up.

"It would be wonderful to fix that, but we can't do that," she said. "That's not within our power. That's the free market, frankly."

Superintendent Dena Naccarato said the district is disappointed the levy failed by such a small margin.

"The school district has enjoyed overwhelming community support for many years, and we wonder if some of our supporters took the success for granted and did not get to the polls," she said. "The levy is fundamental, not supplemental, so we owe it to our students to try again in May."

In addition, she said, Post Falls needs to remain competitive with surrounding school districts if it hopes to retain its teachers and support staff.

"With the renewal of our supplemental levy, Post Falls School District will continue its legacy of fiscal conservatism and the effective use of taxpayer money," Naccarato said.

Board Chairman Dave Paul said the levy failure was disheartening.

"I am 100% convinced that the majority of Post Falls residents favor our schools and value the job our district leadership team and entire staff do for the Post Falls School District," Paul said. "I really feel we just didn’t get enough of them out to vote."

He said one main thing to consider is the misinformation that exists surrounding how levy funds are used.

"Our district has always been so conservative. We didn’t ask our taxpayers to raise the current levy," he said. "We simply wanted to maintain what we had without increasing anyone’s taxes."

He expressed appreciation for those who made it out to vote, as well as for the entire staff of the district for everything they've done this year to get kids back into the classroom.

"I sincerely hope we have an opportunity with those that voted 'no' to improve our communications on what these funds mean to the district and Post Falls, and pray that next time around the results are more like what they have been for the past 25 years or so," Paul said.

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Lippert

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Paul