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COMMENTARY: Repair and reclaim our schools

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| August 24, 2022 1:00 AM

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Kootenai County parents will send their kids back to school. Mixed in with the full backpacks and the first day of school cellphone photos, parents will naturally worry. They will ask themselves: Have we done enough to set our kids up for success?

Two upcoming elections offer Kootenai County Voters the chance to answer YES.

On Aug. 30, we can vote for the Coeur d’Alene School District’s Safety and Maintenance Levy. A YES vote will show that we value an educational environment that is safe enough for children to succeed.

Let’s consider some facts.

Portable classrooms offer no protection from a school shooting. Fences are low enough to be easily hopped.

Buildings are in disrepair. Heating and cooling systems at Coeur d’Alene High School are giving out. Roofs and flooring are beyond their life spans. Borah Elementary School needs a new water heater. Coeur d’Alene High School’s sanitary waste drainage piping needs repair. Fernan STEM Academy’s fire alarm system needs replacement.

That’s not to mention crumbling curbs and parking lots, aging alarms and the outhouses used at the district’s bus depot. (That’s right, outhouses).

There are more than 800 necessary repair or replacement tasks. Children simply cannot succeed in schools that are falling apart.

Those who want to dismantle public education mislead the voters, saying this levy is too much to ask. But since 2006 the state has shorted school districts by $1 billion and local taxpayers are having to make that up with periodic levies like this one. The question now is whether local homeowners are willing to chip in about $11 per month (or $132 per year) for the next 10 years?

Our schools are falling apart. If we wait, the deferred maintenance deficit will balloon to $68 million within five years, and to $101 million within 10 years. Before long our entire educational infrastructure will fail.

A second chance to save our schools arrives on Nov. 8. Kootenai County voters can vote YES on the Quality Education Act, a referendum that if approved, will correct the chronic underfunding that has kept Idaho’s schools at the very bottom nationwide.

The Quality Education Act will increase K-12 funding for teacher pay, support staff, and curriculum needs in technical courses, arts, music and special education.

The Quality Education Act will not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $250,000 per year, ($500,000 for couples filing jointly).

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office debunked the false claim that the Quality Education Act would impact Idahoans in lower tax brackets.

Here again, some are concerned that the Quality Education Act combined with the CDA schools levy costs too much money. But when we consider how far behind Idaho’s school funding really is, the increase is truly minimal.

Furthermore Gov. Little’s plan for a one-time infusion of dollars from the state’s surplus will not make up for 17 years of chronic underfunding.

When you drop your children off for their first day of school, and they walk over potholes, under broken security cameras, and into classrooms with chipped walls and leaky roofs, will you know that you have done enough?

Democrats urge YES votes on Aug. 30 for the Safety and Maintenance Levy, and on Nov. 8 for the Quality Education Act.

• • •

Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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