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WBCSD addresses levy misinformation

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | May 10, 2023 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — There is a lot of misinformation circulating in the community regarding West Bonner County School District's upcoming levy, school district officials said.

The $9.4 million, two-year levy goes to votes on May 16. The levy, which would replace the existing levy, must pass with 51% of the vote and would generate $4.7 million per year.

From state and federal school funding to testing scores to tax relief, interim WBCSD Superintendent Susie Luckey said they've been hearing a lot of rumors about the upcoming levy. She wants voters to have the facts before they head into the polling booths.

While the Idaho Legislature approved a significant increase in school funding for both certified and classified staff, something for which they are thankful, as well as in discretionary funding, not every employee is included, Luckey said.

"What confuses everyone is the fact that at the state level, the funding that was approved stating every teacher on the career ladder will get a $6,359 raise is not true when the allocations are given to the individual districts," she said.

That is due to the state's funding formula that determines how many full-time equivalent positions are generated for a district. The same is true for the classified staff and administration. Numerous factors go into what those numbers are, said Luckey.

"Typically, most districts employ more certified and classified staff than the state funding formula generates to maintain buildings, provide school safety and offer quality programs in the schools," she added. "The levy proposal for salaries and benefits, in addition to the state funding, would allow our district to offer competitive salaries to both classified and certified staff."

Levy funding would fund additional staff not covered through the state formula, but necessary to maintain the current level of programs in the district, Luckey said.

The same is true for the increase in discretionary funds given to the districts. While the increase is appreciated and greatly needed, Luckey said a majority of the "discretionary" funds are used for utilities and transportation to cover the 780 square miles that make up the district. Bus transportation is only reimbursed by the state at 50%, Lucky said.

"Our discretionary funds are used to cover what is not covered by the state," she added.

As for claims the district is receiving additional federal money for its program, that is simply not true, Luckey said.

"I am guessing that this may be in reference to the ESSR funding that was allocated during COVID," she added. "This funding came to the districts in three phases and had specific guidelines in what was allowable use for these funds."

In WBCSD's case, the district used the funds for sanitation supplies and materials during the pandemic, staffing to address learning loss — which ends in June — and facility improvements.

A recently adopted five-year strategic plan outlines a plan for academic improvement, with the aim of offering quality programs and academic excellence. While the district did not rank in the lowest 5% in its state test scores, Priest River Lamanna High School did.

"Because of this, the school and district have been assigned additional support through the Idaho Capacity Building project," she added.

Another area prompting questions is House Bill 292, which aims to offer property tax relief, adopted by the Idaho Legislature this spring

With the legislation — even if the levy renewal is passed on May 16 — Luckey said taxpayers may see some relief when the district certifies the amount in September.

"The district is expecting to receive some tax relief that can be used toward school levies; however, the actual amount has not been determined from the state at this time," she added.

Among other questions received from patrons are:

• The Legislature approved large budget increases this year that starts July 1, 2023, for certified and classified salaries, why are salaries and benefits included in the levy?

A: WBCSD is extremely thankful for the legislators' call to action in increasing the state funding for schools. The West Bonner County School District will receive $6,359 per teacher that is generated on the State Salary Based Apportionment (State Funding Formula). The district will also receive an increase for classified staff.

Most districts employ more certified and classified staff than the state funding formula generates. For example, the state funding formula generates approximately 22 Classified Staff FTEs and the district employs approximately 33. Therefore, state funding will be distributed through the salary matrix and the levy salaries/benefits portions cover the additional employees. Levy dollars will be used to bring staff salaries up to competitive wages within our area to recruit and retain quality staff.

• Why does West Bonner County School District pay more per child than Lake Pend Oreille School District?

A: Districts with a larger enrollment typically pay less per student. According to idahoschools.org, WBCSD cost per child is comparable to districts of similar size:

West Bonner County School District, $13,276; Kellogg School District, $12,889;

Orofino School District, $14,512; and St. Maries School District, $11,804.

• Does WBCSD rank in the bottom 5% for the whole state regarding test scores? Why has this happened when we pay so much for our schools?

A: WBCSD does not rank in the bottom 5% for the whole state regarding test scores; however, Priest River Lamanna High School received this ranking and was identified in the fall of 2022 as needing school improvement. They will receive additional support from the Idaho Building Capacity Project for three years and have created a schoolwide improvement plan to address this issue. The school plan aligns with the 5 Year Strategic Plan that has been adopted by the district.