Julie Wootton reports after three unsuccessful attempts at passing a supplemental levy, the Buhl School District plans to give it another try.
“We need to have more money to balance the budget,” Superintendent Byron Stutzman said.
Voters will likely decide on a new one-year, $400,000 levy during the Aug. 28 election. School trustees were scheduled to make a decision on the amount Monday night. The result wasn’t available in time for this report.
The district doesn’t currently have a levy. As a result, Stutzman said they’re using about $300,000 to $400,000 in reserve funds each year to balance the budget.
“We can’t do that much longer,” he said. There’s just $700,000 left in reserves.
Without a levy, Stutzman said the district may have to cut programs or activities – or move to a four-day school week.
“We’re still doing a very good job on a shoestring, but the shoestring is about to break,” he said.
It’s common for school districts to go to voters with funding requests. So far this year, 12 south-central Idaho districts passed a levy.
And statewide, more than 80 of Idaho’s 117 school districts have a voter-approved levy in place.
School districts that plan to pursue a levy in August must submit information to their county clerk by July 13.
In Buhl, the district last went to voters with a levy request in May 2011 and the ballot measure failed by a narrow margin. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Buhl residents approved a few plant facilities levies – used for school building and maintenance projects – in the 1990s. And voters passed a $9.65 million bond in 2003 to build a new high school facility.
How Education Is Funded
School districts’ growing reliance on voter-approved funding is a topic included in an April report by the nonprofit Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.
Executive Director Mike Ferguson – who wrote the report – stopped by the Times-News on Monday to share information about public education funding.
The former longtime state economist is traveling this week to speak at events in locations including Fremont County, Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
Ferguson’s report suggests changes to Idaho’s school funding system might have violated a constitutional requirement to maintain a uniform and thorough system of public and free schools.
The report also states public school funding as a share of state spending has dropped sharply since 2000.
Ferguson collected data from the Idaho State Tax Commission about the number of districts with supplemental levies and the amounts. But he’d also like to look at districts where levies haven’t passed.
Since Ferguson’s report came out in April, he received questions from school district superintendents about where data came from.
Ferguson said he’s surprised there hasn’t been any “push back” or criticism about the report. There aren’t any easy solutions, he said, when it comes to public education funding.
“I hope we have some good, honest discussion about what’s going on,” he said.