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Preparing for the worst

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | March 29, 2023 1:09 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Officials at the Coeur d'Alene School District are crafting two plans for the future.

One is to carry on if the two-year, $25 million-per-year supplemental levy measure is approved May 16 at the polls.

The other is a reduction in force that will include a large number of job, programming and resource losses for the district if this measure fails.

"What we are having to do is, as of right now, as of this very moment, we don’t have a levy in place, so we have to start making plans accordingly," Coeur d'Alene's Director of Human Resources Eric Davis said Tuesday. "We are hopeful we get it passed this next time in May."

The proposed supplemental levy, if approved, would replace the existing two-year supplemental levy that expires June 30 and that currently costs $76.17 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. If this levy passes, the tax is expected to increase by $19.04 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value for the first year.

According to Idaho statute, a reduction in force, or RIF, in education means "the elimination of a certificated staff position or positions or a portion or percentage of a position or positions." This process occurs when curriculum or programs change, when enrollment drops or, in the case of Coeur d'Alene, when negative changes occur in the financial conditions of the school district.

RIF planning was prompted by the failure of the $25 million-per-year perpetual levy election March 14.

"We have no guarantee we’re going to have a levy. We have to make plans as if we don’t," Davis said. "It is kind of crazy, right, but we have to do two things at once."

District officials will soon send RIF notifications to district employees with a caveat that outcomes will depend on results of the May levy election, Davis said.

"We have sent out forms for administrators to evaluate their people," per district policy, he said.

The district has already halted fall sports preparations. Sports and extracurricular activities are among what levy dollars pay for, as well as textbooks, staff training, school resource officers, school nurses, career technical education classes, teacher compensation and more.

If the May levy does not receive over 50% of voter approval, more than 300 of the district's 1,300 employees — librarians and library managers, athletic directors, half-day kindergarten teachers, campus security officers and district and operations staff, to name a few — may have to be let go.

"We are talking significant numbers of people losing their jobs if this doesn’t pass," Davis said. "It’s going to hit all levels, and that's a lot of people in this community to be out of a job."

He said it's necessary to prepare for each scenario "to be sure you’re ready for the worst."

At the end of a special March 20 meeting of the Coeur d'Alene School Board, Chair Rebecca Smith said the board has received online letters from people sharing ideas about how the district can further tighten its budget.

"That's work that we can continue to do," Smith said.

Trustee Heather Tenbrink said people are also asking about an outside budget analysis and asked district staff to look into that process.

Vice Chair Casey Morrisroe said it would be great to work together to tighten the budget and apply any money possible to deferred maintenance projects.

Deferred maintenance projects include heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, roofs, electrical, plumbing, flooring, equipment and furnishings. These items would have been addressed through the $5 million-per-year, five-year safety and maintenance levy measure that also failed at the polls earlier this month.