Monday, June 05, 2023

School officials: Anti-levy efforts are ‘bogus,’ ‘un-American’

Staff Writer | March 2, 2023 1:08 AM

Coeur d'Alene School District officials are calling out misleading levy information that has been distributed to voters in the district.

Superintendent Shon Hocker and Coeur d'Alene School Board Vice Chair Casey Morrisroe released a statement Wednesday calling these campaign materials "bogus," "disgusting," "unethical" and "un-American."

The materials include flyers and door hangers telling people to vote against the levy elections that will go before voters March 14 — a $25 million perpetual supplemental levy and a $5 million, five-year safety and maintenance levy. The school district officials’ statement notes these materials misrepresent the purpose of the proposed school funding levies and blatantly distort the property tax impact if the levies are approved.

“Voters deserve factual information about the two levies on the ballot, and they can find that in both the ballot language and on the school district website,,” Hocker said in the news release. “It’s regrettable that a group would use bogus facts to confuse and scare voters this close to the election.”

The flyers make the assumption that a home with an assessed value of $500,000 in 2021 will double to $1 million in 2023 and project a 300% property tax increase. While property value assessments did increase dramatically in 2022, it’s unlikely they went up by 50% for most people, and the property tax assessments for 2023 have not been completed yet in Kootenai County.

The materials say supplemental levy money is on top of the $330 million Gov. Brad Little has earmarked for school districts and teacher salaries. However, the Coeur d’Alene School Board has a resolution in place to allow trustees to vote to levy less funds when the state steps in with more funding, so the full $25 million may not even be necessary each year.

The flyers also say the supplemental levy pays for “only the first payment of items that have continuous fees: more curriculum and applicable licenses, new staffing, software, more teacher compensation, etc.”

Hocker told The Press he’s not sure what they’re saying, and he’s the superintendent.

"I can only imagine how confusing it is for people who aren't in the school world every day," Hocker said. "They're doing that on purpose to twist facts and get people to vote the way they want them to vote."

The materials have been found on residential doorsteps and even inserted into coupon books in local grocery stores, Hocker said.

“That’s how it came to my attention,” he said

The flyers state the safety and maintenance levy is the same one voters rejected in August. This is not true — the levy that failed in August, which received 50.27% of the 55% voter approval necessary to pass, was for $8 million every year for 10 years, not $5 million for five years, which is what will be on the ballot in March.

The flyers use language such as "your new total levy tax will skyrocket" and tell renters to be prepared for rent to increase again to "offset the higher tax burden on your property owner."

"We live in a world where inflation is always a thing," Hocker said. "When I was a kid, you could get gasoline and milk for under a buck. Today, it’s not that price. Property taxes go up. Certainly, it's no surprise to think the landlord is going to pass on some of those expenses to the tenant."

He said the language used is meant to instill fear and confuse the public.

Morrisroe also condemned the materials.

“It’s disgusting that a group would purposefully misrepresent the tax cost of the district’s levy in an effort to scare residents into voting no,” Morrisroe said. “Voters have a right to have accurate election information, which is why I feel compelled to speak out. In this case, I find this flyer to be unethical and un-American."

The red and teal flyers were paid for by Awesome Sauce PAC and list Summer Bushnell as the political action committee’s treasurer. Two campaign finance disclosure reports filed in January for the Awesome Sauce PAC alternately list Bushnell as the PAC’s chairperson. For the month of January, the PAC did not report any contributions or expenditures.

When contacted by The Press to discuss her position on the materials in question, Bushnell declined to comment.

Hocker, who has been a superintendent in western states since 2007, said nobody benefits from this sort of misinformation. Ultimately, it hurts the students.

"I've never been in a school district where there’s been an organized opposition where somebody is printing materials to mislead our voters," he said.

Money from the supplemental levy pays for the 25% funding gap left by a lack of state funds. This levy pays for athletics and extracurricular activities, textbooks, learning materials, staff training, elective classes, KTEC, technology, teacher and staff compensation and more.

Funds from the safety and maintenance levy would pay for deferred maintenance projects, roof repairs, electrical and plumbing systems, security cameras, fencing and other safety needs, to name a few.

“I fear the harm in this failing is it will drastically change what Coeur d’Alene looks like,” Hocker said. “I don't know how we could be more transparent than we are. I just want our voters to not be confused by falsehoods.”



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