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Alturas Elementary School Principal Brad Henson, center, and staff prep laptops for students to use at home, part of the Blaine County School District’s remote learning rollout this week. COVID-19, which has already altered district operations, may soon hit its finances, the school board said on Tuesday.

With questions looming about the potential economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees voted this week to take a plant facilities levy request off the table this year.

The district had been planning to ask voters in August to approve a levy for building repairs, additions, and technology, projected to be about $40 million over ten years. The school board decided Tuesday to put that request off until at least March of next year.

“I think it would be in exceedingly bad faith, given what the economic consequences could be to [the people in] this school district, for us to be asking for more money in August or November of this year,” board Chairman Keith Roark said. “Even if we wanted to do that, I have severe doubts about whether we would be able to get it approved anyway.”

How exactly the COVID-19 crisis will impact the Blaine County School District financially isn’t yet known, but the district may feel the effects of both a potential decrease in state revenue and the local economic impact of the pandemic. As Idaho businesses temporarily shut their doors, more than 2,000 workers in Blaine County filed for unemployment insurance benefits between March 15 and April 4.

With property taxes, the district can only collect from the amount taxpayers actually pay, BCSD Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher reminded the board.

“The longer this goes on, the more challenging it will be for people paying their mortgages,” he said.

State officials say they don’t know yet how much money the state will lose in tax revenue because of the pandemic, but Gov. Brad Little last month directed state agencies not directly in-volved in Idaho’s coronavirus response—including the State Department of Education—to shave one percent off their budgets to make up for the expected loss in revenue.

For the Blaine County School District, the one percent budget holdback will mean an automatic loss of about $200,000, according to Fletcher.

“We’re looking at basically a triple hit here,” Trustee Lara Stone said, referring to the postponement of the levy, the expected decrease in state revenue, and the potential drop in local property tax revenue.

The district has sufficient funds to cover the full budget of the next fiscal year, Fletcher said. But that would mean dipping further into the district’s savings, leaving less money available for emergencies or issues in the future.

School calendar

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Trustees approved several changes to the district calendar for the 2020-21 school year.

Instead of winter break starting on Dec. 24, break will now start after Friday, Dec. 18. Teachers will return to school on Monday, Jan. 4 and students will return on Jan. 6. Trustees also approved moving Teacher Collaboration Day from May 26 to April 16, making May 25 the final day of work for teachers.

The district plans to convene a new calendar committee in the fall to discuss the 2021-22 calendar.

It is also in the process of applying for a waiver from the state, which would absolve BCSD from having to make up the two weeks of learning in the 2019-20 academic year missed while local schools were closed for COVID-19.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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