Nampa seeks levy to heal schools

The School District promises more teachers and more instructor days with students if voters give it the $3.4 million sought.

broberts@idahostatesman.comFebruary 16, 2014 

  • VOTING ON THE LEVIES

    Early voting for supplemental school levies in the Treasure Valley is underway. The Meridian, Vallivue, Nampa, Kuna, Caldwell and Middleton school districts are seeking levies in part to make up for state funding cuts.

    Early voting for districts in Canyon County, which began Feb. 10, resumes on Tuesday and ends Friday, March 7. Voters must bring a photo identification. The elections office is at 1102 E. Chicago St. in Caldwell. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

    Voting for Ada County districts begins Tuesday and ends Friday, March 7. Hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voters can also cast ballots on Saturday, March 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Photo ID is required. The elections office is at 400 N. Benjamin Lane.

    Two school districts, Meridian and Kuna, have voters from both counties. Voters must vote in their counties of residence.

    The regular election day for the six levies is March 11 and voters can cast ballots at their normal polling places.

  • What the 6 school districts want

    Meridian: A $14 million levy a year for two years. A previously approved supplemental levy currently costs $115.64 per year for a homeowner whose house has a taxable value of $100,000. If the levy passes, the new rate is expected to drop to $107, because of increased values and new construction in the district. Money would be used to maintain the 45-member teaching staff that had been cut during the recession prior to passage of the $14 million levy in 2012. It also maintains the nine days of school that were restored with the 2012 levy.

    Vallivue: A $4.5 million annual levy for two more years. The current, previously approved levy goes to keep class sizes low and to help with a college prep program for low-income students. The current levy costs $251 for a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

    Nampa: A $3.39 million two-year levy to end 14 days per year of furlough and fill 25 teaching positions eliminated in budget cuts. The property tax bill for the levy would about double from the existing $1.6 million levy. Cost per $100,000 would rise from $50 to $100.

    Kuna: A $3.19 million yearly levy for two years. An existing supplemental levy has gone to pay for 71 employees and six school days. The levy costs about $326.15 for a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

    Caldwell: A two-year, $2.75 million-a-year levy for day-to-day operations. Estimated cost: $224.25 for a home with a taxable value of $100,000. That is down from $235.47 for the existing levy because of anticipated increases in property values.

    Middleton: A two-year, $1.31 million levy that would cost $132 for the average home in Middleton, which costs $130,028.

  • BILL ROBERTS

    Bill has worked for the Idaho Statesman for 27 years. He covers public schools and higher education.

Forty students are squeezed into Ryan Bobo’s American government class at Skyview High School.

The room is warm and stuffy, all those bodies heating up the place. Seven rows of desks aren’t enough to accommodate everyone. One student sits in a chair at the back. His desk is a stool.

Bobo appears undeterred as he reviews elements of government: helping the students understand gerrymandering, explaining the definition of a bicameral legislature.

He has several crowded classes each day. He knows the students don’t get the one-on-one time they need.

“You are basically spewing information and hoping they get it,” he said.

The bulging classes are repeated at other schools. The Nampa School District was forced to slash spending after realizing in 2012 that it had double-counted some revenue and overestimated other income. The budget errors led to Superintendent Gary Larsen’s resignation. Faced with a $5.3 million hole, the district won voter passage of a $4.3 million levy, sold some property and made other reductions to wipe out the deficit.

As the district entered the 2013-2014 school year, it cut 46 teaching position through attrition and instituted a 14-day furlough to avoid creating another deficit.

Now, the district wants to undo much of the damage by replacing a $1.6 million-a-year levy that was used for operational expenses with one more than twice that size, $3.4 million a year for two years.

The levy would fill more than half the lost teaching positions and eliminate their 14 yearly furlough days — five of them days teachers spend in direct contact with the district’s 15,000 students. The money also would alleviate overcrowding in Bobo’s and other classes.

Homeowners’ tax bills for the supplemental levy would rise from $50 per $100,000 of taxable value to $100.

“What we are asking for is the opportunity to put everything back together where we were before we blew up two years ago,” said Pete Koehler, interim superintendent.

If the levy fails, not much will happen. Teachers such as Bobo will still spew information, and some students may still have stools as desks.

Nampa is one of six Treasure Valley school districts that will ask voters to approve supplemental levies Tuesday, March 11, to help cover operational costs. Many of the levies were created when the state cut education funding during the recession. Nampa is the only district asking to raise its existing levy — indeed, double it — and the only one dragging the baggage of a financial debacle.

GO BIG OR GO HOME

Autumn Short, a parent in the Nampa School District, is at the reins of the Yes on Nampa Schools campaign to pass the levy. She has a political background, having worked on elections for her mother, Nampa City Councilwoman Pam White, and the 2009 re-election of former Nampa Mayor Tom Dale.

She dropped by the city’s public safety building last week. A handful of volunteers, cellphones in hand, were calling voters to provide information about the levy. With less than a month to go before voting day, some people are already taking advantage of early voting.

Short urged school board trustees in December to be bold in seeking a levy bigger than the $1.6 million approved two years ago to help cover operational costs. The extra money is needed to build an education system that will “bring future business to the city of Nampa and lower taxes,” she said.

The campaign is focusing on groups Short and others believe are inclined to vote yes, such as parents of elementary and middle school students.

“These are the ones whose families ... are stuck in the district,” she said.

She’s arranged informational meetings. At schools, people can pick up levy information and an absentee ballot, and they can enter their name in a raffle for an iPad.

School bands are coming together for a night of music — along with information about the levy — at East Valley Middle School on Monday, Feb. 24.

Short’s challenge is to persuade voters to increase their taxes just months after Nampans voted to oust Dale over high taxes. Helping people understand the difference between Nampa city taxes and district taxes is hard, Short said.

“Unfortunately I don’t think the message is getting through,” Short said.

WORDS FROM THE MAYOR

She’s getting little help from Dale’s successor.

Bob Henry, Nampa’s new mayor and himself a former Nampa School District trustee for 12 years, did try during his state of the city address last month to help residents understand the difference between school taxes and the high city taxes he attacked during his campaign.

“Please make your decision based on the merit of the request, not based on your frustration with the Nampa city levy rate,” he said in his speech.

But he didn’t ask Nampans to vote yes.

“I just couldn’t come out and say I supported the levy,” Henry told the Idaho Statesman. “I have a level of frustration for the amount they are asking.”

If he were still a trustee, he would have voted to ask voters to renew the $1.6 million annual levy, he said.

A TAX FIGHTER JOINS THE CAUSE

Ron Harriman helped found the Nampa Tax Accountability Committee, a tax watchdog group, in February 2012 out of concern for Nampa’s rising taxes under Dale. Harriman also looked into the district tax levy, and he came to a different conclusion than Henry did.

The Nampa district trails nearly every other Treasure Valley district in what it gets from property taxes and has for some time, he said. The district can’t be sustained and do the job it is supposed to on the money it is getting, Harriman said.

The Nampa School District gets 18 percent of the total property taxes paid by people living in Nampa and the district, school officials say.

Nampans pay $101 per student in supplemental levies, the lowest rate in the Treasure Valley. Meridian residents pay $390 per student and Boise $892, according to the Idaho Department of Education.

“I personally will support the bond,” said Harriman, who has no children in Nampa schools.

But other members of his committee — he won’t say who — don’t feel the same way, so an endorsement won’t be a committee action.

A WORD FROM PARENTS

Liz Skoglund, a parent with two children in the district, believes the levy would help stem teacher turnover. About 160 teachers left the district last year.

“I am concerned about the experienced teachers leaving,” she said. “They need to have solid math. They need to have solid science.”

She has faith in Koehler, the former Nampa High School principal who stepped into the interim superintendent’s job last spring. Koehler is credited by parents with putting trustee-ordered cuts into effect in a calm, reassuring way.

But even for Skoglund, voting for the levy is a bit of a leap of faith after the financial problems.

“I just hope they have got better control of the place,” she said.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service