The Blaine County School District will put a levy for building repairs, additions and technology on the ballot in August, the school board decided Tuesday—but the timing of the election could be complicated by a bill in the Idaho Legislature.
The board plans to schedule a special meeting soon to review the specifics of the plant facilities levy request, which is currently projected to be about $40 million over ten years. But discussion of the levy at this week’s meeting revolved less around what exactly the request would look like and more around when exactly voters would decide whether to approve it.
A bill making its way through the state House of Representatives would prohibit school districts from holding bond and levy elections in March or August, allowing those elections to take place in November or May only. If the bill passes, it could create a tricky situation for BCSD, board members said Tuesday.
Moving the levy election up to May would give the district less time to prepare and make its case to the public, potentially lowering the levy’s chances of passing, several board members argued. And pushing the election back to November would mean the district would have to wait 14 months before accessing the funding if it passes.
“It’s kind of picking your battle, whether you want to go earlier with the levy or go later and have those funds not be there,” Board Vice Chair Kelly Green said.
The district’s Finance Committee has recommended asking the public for a plant facilities levy of $40,021,289 to go toward general maintenance, technology, and special projects over the next 10 years.
The board decided not to discuss the recommendations in depth at Tuesday’s meeting—opting instead to schedule a special meeting to review the suggested projects with the public—after agreeing that $40 million request is “really not something to try to cram into 20 minutes at a board meeting on a Tuesday night,” as Trustee Rob Clayton put it.
“I think we want to be very careful here that if we go to the voters we are telling them specifically what we’re going to do with the money,” Board Chair Keith Roark said, comparing this year’s proposal to the district’s last plant facilities request a decade ago. “Just holding our hand out and asking for $40 million, saying ‘Trust us, we’re going to spend it the right way,’ worked one time. It’s not going to work again.”
The more urgent question Tuesday night, though, was when to ask for the money.
A May election would align with the district’s budgeting timeline, but Roark and others said they worried a May election wouldn’t leave enough time to prepare.
“I’m very skeptical about being ready to go out in May,” Roark said. “These things take time beyond the mere deadlines that are imposed.”
And if a levy fails, Trustee Lara Stone added, “the odds of it passing the next time are much lower.”
“I’m inclined to think we won’t just keep trying until [it passes],” Stone said, “but we’ll try to do it right.”
An August election would fall about one month into the district’s fiscal year, so the district could still budget contingently upon it, Clayton said. In November, by contrast, the district would be significantly further into the fiscal year “with no idea if we have these funds or not,” he said.
“Those are, to me, pretty significant considerations,” Clayton said. “If we don’t pass a levy and we do have these fixed costs, these fixed costs have to come from somewhere.”
If a November levy did pass, the district would need to wait until the end of the next full tax year before receiving the money.
Board members ultimately deci-
ded to schedule the levy for August, reasoning that if the bill passes the Legislature, the election will likely be pushed back until at least November anyway. House Bill 393 was introduced last week but has not yet had a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.
“The intent is good with the bill,” Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said. “It’s just the alignment of requirements for district budgeting and negotiating with teachers does not line up.”
The board has also asked local lawmakers to look into the possibility of BCSD being grandfathered in to hold an August election this year if the bill does pass.
A date for the special meeting to review the levy recommendations has not yet been decided.