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Education

Bonneville School District 93 talks about levies

AMMON, Idaho (KIFI) - Bonneville Joint School District 93 has two levies on the May 18 ballot.

A plant facilities levy, for $2.8 million, and a supplemental levy, for $5.8 million.

Amy Landers, the school board chairman, explained what the levies are for.

"It pays for all our plant facilities things, to fix up our schools, to maintain our grounds. The supplemental is for helping with teacher salary, helping with our classified staff, bus drivers, helping with all of our sports programs," Landers said.

These aren't new levies, rather, the ballot will ask for voter approval to renew existing levies at current amounts, since the state requires school districts to go out to voters every two years to renew the supplemental levy.

Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said the levies were on the ballot in March.

"We asked for an increase for both of these levies, a million dollars for both the supplemental and facilities," Woolstenhulme said. "And that was one thing the opposition to this really targeted, was what they determined, a tax increase, which obviously was an increase to these two levies independently. What it wouldn't have been was an overall tax increase to our patrons."

Woolstenhulme continued, saying, "One key thing is this year our board did not levy an emergency levy, which was actually a two million dollar decrease. And so we're really trying to make up that loss. But because our voters did support that increase, these funds are still absolutely critical to our district, and that's why it's so important we go out again in May and ask our voters to please approve it in May."

If the supplemental levy doesn't pass, the school district would see a shortfall of millions of dollars to their budget.

"The hard thing for me is the state law calls this a supplemental levy," Woolstenhulme said. "And it's really not supplemental. Once we build this into our budget, it becomes very critical to how we operate our district. And so if our voters didn't approve this, we'd be looking at an $8.6 million shortfall to our budget."

That means the district will have to consider pay cuts, layoffs, and other cost-saving measures explained Woolstenhulme.

"When we went and had budget cuts in 2009, we eliminated teaching positions, counseling positions, custodial, classified positions. We had a lot of cuts district-wide," Woolstenhulme said. "I don't think we made pay cuts back then, but now the challenge we have is the state sets a minimum salary for teachers, and there's about 30% of our teachers, that legally, we can't take a pay cut to those teachers. We also can't cut any more teacher positions, because we would lose funding from the state for those."

Woolstenhulme said this means when it comes to the teaching aspect, they don't have a lot of options.

"So unfortunately, what it means is we have to look at our lowest-paid employees, which are our custodians, classroom paraprofessionals, they're the ones who would have to take pay cuts," Woolstenhulme said. "Our administrators will likely have to look at pay cuts. To get to $8.6 million is really going to mean everybody's going to be having a little less to take home in their pockets. Some people are going to lose their jobs, and some programs we won't be able to provide. It's going to be very extensive if we lose these dollars."

Those programs Woolstenhulme is talking about are sports and other extracurricular activities like the performing arts.

"The reality is, extracurricular activities like sports, and performing arts, and those other programs, they're not funded from the state. And so if we don't have local dollars, it's going to be very hard to maintain those programs."

The school district may not be able to rely on federal money to make up for the lost dollars.

"There should be some federal money coming to the district, but we don't know yet, that hasn't been given to us from the state," Woolstenhulme said "We don't know when we'll receive it, we don't know how much we'll receive, we don't know if there's going to be earmarked that says we have to use them for specific things. So it's really hard for us to say, 'Oh we have federal dollars coming, we can just basically trade it out for the local dollars,' cause there are so many strings that are attached to those federal dollars."

Woolstenhulme compares the cuts to those one would have to make if a household lost a source of income.

"We're not making threats, we're looking and saying if we don't have these dollars, we have to make cuts," Woolstenhulme said. "And these are the areas we can cut. We're not trying to create fear among our population, we're not trying to force people to vote, it's just the reality of what dollars we have. Just like if I lose money in my home budget, I've got to make some hard decisions on what I'm not spending money on anymore. And I might have to make some really hard decisions on what that looks like. And that's going to be what we do as a district."

Woolstenhulme explained there will be no increase to the tax rate, thanks to how much the area is growing.

"Back in 2020, we saw lots of new homes that were built, lots of new businesses, plus all of our home values went up," Woolstenhulme said. "And so what that means is our tax base went up, and so it's going to take fewer dollars from everybody to generate this 5.8 million and 2.8 million. So the reality is when the board sets a levy rate in August, the amount that people pay towards these two will go down from what it was last year, and the year before and the year before."

Woolstenhulme has one final thing to say to voters of all ages.

"Great schools make great communities. Add it's not just about the education that happens here, but it's about the workforce we're able to provide," Woolstenhulme said. "Over and over it shows that when you have great schools, your economy grows, and it just makes for a better, healthier community. It helps with keeping crime rates down, it has such a critical impact on the entire community. And that's why we really need everybody to support. And I also say when my kids are out of the system, just like I had support from the community around me, to help pay for my kids' education, I'm going to be happy to pay for the next generation. That's how we pay it forward in our country."

The supplemental levy needs a simple majority of 50% to pass, and the facilities levy needs 60% to pass.

Idaho / Idaho Falls / Local News / News / Top Stories
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Rachel Fabbi

Rachel Fabbi is a reporter, anchor and producer for Local News 8 and Eyewitness News 3.

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