Friday, February 03, 2023

EDITORIAL: School levy forecast full of clouds

| September 2, 2022 1:00 AM

Chalk it up as a moral victory for Coeur d’Alene School District.

But also, acknowledge that moral victories don’t put bucks in the bank.

On Tuesday, a majority of district voters approved the request for $8 million a year over 10 years, but gaining 50.3% of the vote didn’t punch the winning Powerball ticket. The district needed to clear a 55% bar to begin tackling seriously backlogged facility safety and deferred maintenance issues.

The three biggest school asks in the state all went down in flames Tuesday. Is it a trend that reinforces concerns that public education is losing its foothold in the minds and hearts of citizens? Is it creating increasing dependence on the Idaho Legislature to buck up and pay more of public education’s real costs? Or is it simply indicative of too many people struggling right now with runaway inflation that includes nightmarish housing costs, a bad blip on the radar that will disappear when the economy improves?

Nobody knows those answers, but this much we can document. Looking back on the last four Coeur d’Alene levy requests — the first three victorious — support has fallen alarmingly.

In 2017, 79% of district voters approved the supplemental levy request.

Two years later, the “yes” votes were still strong — 69.62% approval — but still almost a 10% drop from the previous levy.

In 2021, the supplemental levy passed with 59.95% approval — a win masking another 10% drop.

And on Tuesday, the levy request faltered with still another nearly 10% decrease.

While these levy requests differed, they remain the best indicator of the public’s willingness to pay to ensure our schools have the basics they need. Something clearly has been happening since 2017, and if you’re a Coeur d'Alene school board member or administrator, that something should concern you.

As some longtime families have moved away because costs became too high, they’re often being replaced by retirees with sufficient funds and a staunch reluctance to part with those funds. Many retirees believe they have paid their fair share over many years, and with no kids or grandkids in local schools, they think the burden should be borne by those who do.

Maybe school district fortunes will turn when inflation gets whittled down again. Maybe smaller asks will be required, even at the peril of not fully addressing what needs to be done.

But until the steady stream of newcomers to our community is brought into the fold and shown how thriving schools will make their lives better, levy losses may become the norm and not the exception.

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