Our View: Valley voters need to say ‘yes’ to levies

March 7, 2014 

Though it is true that the Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter could be providing more funding for Idaho school districts in 2015 because of the $1.38 billion proposed Joint Finance Appropriations Committee budget — which is an improvement over previous years — this is no time for voters to take a pass or vote “No” on the numerous school levies on the ballot Tuesday.

Districts in the Treasure Valley and throughout the state are still reeling from ongoing funding cutbacks instituted as far back as 2005 (and earlier in some instances) and continuing through at least 2012.

In many cases — including the Meridian School District, where there is a $14 million levy (identical to one voters approved in 2012) — the JFAC appropriations aren’t addressing all the shortfalls from previous years. The $6 million Meridian expects from the state will put Idaho’s largest district on a path to recovery, not actual restoration.

“If our levy fails we will have to make $14 million in additional cuts,” said Linda Clark, Meridian School District superintendent. Cuts would include a reduction in class days (nine) and staff.

The term “supplemental” on these measures is a misnomer. There was a time when districts asked for “supplemental” funding to do things above and beyond necessary expenses, but it has been more than a decade since many have made such a request to do more than survive. The day might come when state funding reaches a level that will render these two-year funding requests unnecessary, but don’t hold your breath in the near term.

Here is a sampling of Treasure Valley districts and their requests, which are annual, for a period of two years: Meridian ($14 million); Vallivue ($4.5 million); Nampa ($3.39 million, though the district is still paying down on another); Kuna ($3.19 million); Caldwell ($2.75 million); and Middleton ($1.31 million).

It can be argued that some of Nampa’s fiscal wounds have been self-inflicted because of bad financial oversight, but the district should be lauded for its attempts to right the ship and get back on course. Adjustments have been made and this is no time for voters to shrink from finishing the job.

We believe the state is making headway on restoring K-12 funding based on a five-year plan that has come out of the Task Force for Improving Education. But all of these districts need the levy dollars and support of voters to maintain until that happens. A “Yes” vote is essential for Idaho’s future.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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