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A request to invest in school safety, maintenance

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | July 31, 2022 1:09 AM

Yellow spray paint encircles large, jagged potholes in the Lake City High School parking lot.

"Once you start to get cracks, they just get worse and worse and worse," Coeur d'Alene School District Director of Operations Jeff Voeller said.

At Fernan STEM Academy, windowsills are warped, hand washing sinks are disintegrating and cooling towers are falling into disrepair.

"There are definitely some health and safety issues here," district spokesman Scott Maben said.

Crumbling sidewalks, rotting ramps, torn carpets, dilapidated heating systems, and entrances and schoolyards that need increased security are among the many items the district hopes to address with funding from the school plant facilities levy that will go before voters Aug. 30.

If this levy passes muster at the polls, it would allow the district to collect up to $8 million per year for 10 years. If the full amount is not needed in any given year, less than $8 million will be levied.

The district has 40 buildings across 17 school campuses and four operational facilities. These facilities are, on average, 30 years old.

The backlog of deferred maintenance in these facilities exceeds $25 million. Without a dedicated and sufficient funding source, the deferred maintenance cost will snowball, hitting a projected $68 million within five years and exceeding $101 million within 10 years.

About 25% of the levy funding will go to safety, security and technology projects while 75% will go toward the backlog of necessary repairs.

By making this investment now, the district hopes to save millions in tax dollars in the long run.

“If we had this levy stream of up to $8 million a year, you’re going to avoid the temporary patchwork approach," Maben said. "You’re going to fix what really needs to be fixed and replace what really needs to be replaced. That’s a more efficient use of tax dollars over time."

From a student perspective, incoming Coeur d'Alene High School senior Dylan Jones said this levy will address issues in his school and others that will allow students to be the best they can be every day.

"I constantly hear complaints about our heating and cooling," he said. "There are plenty of rooms that don't have the proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to keep the students comfortable sitting in class without the constant thought of worrying about the temperature. The air system in our schools, I feel, has been the biggest issue throughout the years that this levy can really do a good job at fixing."

The aesthetics of deteriorating schools also impacts students in the district.

"Our interior has been outdated and bland," said Dylan, who is the president of the district's Student Advisory Group. "I feel that if we make our schools look dynamic, then the culture and the spirit of the students can change as well."

He said in the grand scheme of things, he sees no con to upgrading students' learning environment.

"I would much rather come to school and walk into a great facility that is well-kept and organized," he said. "In the end, it's not just for the looks, but for the students."

Based on the growth in the value of all taxable property within the Coeur d'Alene School District, district officials project this levy will have a tax rate of $31 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value, or about $.31 per $1,000.

Maben explained the ballot language voters will see is based on 2021-22 total property valuation, rather than what is projected for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

"The ballot language states the tax rate for the proposed levy will be $50.03 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value, or $.50 per $1,000," he said. "We know, however, that our tax rate is being pushed down by the growth in residential and commercial development here, and by growth in assessed property values. That's how we can say the actual tax rate for the levy will be about $.31 per $1,000."

The overall tax rate for the Coeur d'Alene School District, which includes its two-year operating levy and school construction bonds, is currently $1.56 per $1,000.

"This overall rate is projected to decrease again for the coming tax year," Maben said. "Even with approval of our safety and maintenance levy this August, our overall rate is estimated to drop to about $1.30 per $1,000 next year. That is down from a rate of $2.38 per $1,000 in 2016. Our rate has been dropping steadily, again due to growth."

Also, the homeowner's exemption in Idaho was increased from $100,000 to $125,000 in 2021, which is good news for taxpayers. This means, for example, if a home is valued at $500,000 and the $125,000 exemption is subtracted, then the taxable value is $375,000. At 31 cents per $1,000, this levy would cost that homeowner $116.25 per year and less than $10 a month.

The online voter registration deadline for the Aug. 30 election is midnight Friday. Paper applications must be postmarked no later than Friday. The absentee ballot request deadline is Aug. 19.

Visit cdaschools.org/levy for details.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Coeur d'Alene School District Scott Maben inspects a crumbling hand washing sink in Fernan STEM Academy.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Jeff Voeller, director of operations for the Coeur d'Alene School District, points out one of several potholes highlighted with yellow spray paint in the Lake City High School parking lot.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

A water-damaged, warped windowsill in a special education classroom is one of many items to address if voters approve the $8-million-per-year school plant facilities levy in the Coeur d'Alene School District on Aug. 30.

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