By Laura Colvin
Kuna Melba News editor
Voters in Kuna will soon be asked to decide whether they want to help fund district schools over the next two years.
The Kuna Schools board of trustees unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday to place a two-year $3.19 million supplemental school levy request on the Aug. 28 ballot.
The amount was set in a recommendation from Superintendent Jay Hummel, who told the board that to his knowledge, it’s only the third time the district has asked patrons to approve a supplemental levy.
Two of those measures passed, while the third, a May 2011 request for a two-year $1.5 million levy, was rejected with 61 percent of votes cast against it.
All five trustees expressed opinions in favor of sending the new request, which will total $6.38 million over the two-year period, to voters.
“We need to let people know that the board they elected supports this levy,” said Trustee Kevin Gifford at Tuesday’s pre-meeting workshop, noting that the quality of education in Kuna will decline significantly without the increase in funding. “Let’s be out there, and up front. It’s not just the administrators, who get paid too much anyway, who are asking for this. It’s also the elected officials who get paid nothing.”
Gifford also pointed out that many surrounding districts have now passed levies and are subsequently more attractive to teachers and other education professionals shopping for the best opportunities.
As it stands, parents and students will be greeted on the first day of school Aug. 22 with an increased fee structure and larger class sizes – some with a student/teacher ratio of 44-to-1.
District administrators have long warned of just such a situation, and say the supplemental levy request is based on a significant loss of revenue to the district at the hands of state lawmakers who have reduced funding in some areas while redirecting and earmarking other revenues.
The result, they say, is a $4.7 million reduction in money funneled to the district’s general fund over the last two years. Administrators have been able to offset the losses with federal stimulus dollars, but that funding has now expired, as has the two-year, $1.1 million supplemental levy approved by 62 percent of voters in May 2009. That levy expired at the end of the 2010-11 school year.
A simple majority is required for passage of a supplemental levy, which can be used for any purpose.
To offset reduced funding, the district has implemented a number of budget cuts, including increased fees, decreased, or in some cases eliminated purchasing of text books and other curricular materials, increased class sizes and made staffing cuts.
On a number of occasions, Hummel has noted that in addition to the financial struggle, the district is also suffering from collateral damage, like losing teachers who find districts like Meridian more desirable to work in.
Voters in the Meridian school district in March approved a two-year, $14 million per year supplemental levy with 54 percent of the vote.
Nampa voters, however, went to the polls March 13 and turned down a two-year $7.16 million supplemental school levy request, with 3,534 voting against and 2,348 in favor.
Trustees in that district will try again Aug. 28, this time asking for just a fraction of the previous amount and setting the request at $1.6 million for two years.
If Kuna’s measure passes, funds collected will be used for expenses involved in maintaining and operating the district from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2014, including the hiring of additional teachers, reducing fees, continuing driver’s education training purchasing textbooks, curricular materials, supplies, instructional technology, equipment and providing maintenance for buildings in the district.
Further, if the measure passes, Hummel said, class sizes will be reduced by the hiring of new teachers and fee structures will be reduced “the next day.”
None of the trustees expressed an opinion against sending the request to voters.
“I had to swallow when I saw that figure of $3.19 million,” said vice-chair Carl Ericson. “But I think we have a duty to our district and our kids.”
Hummel said he’d been working optimistically ahead of Tuesday’s board approval to reach out to district parents in hopes of getting an election committee together to inform the public about the district’s financial situation and funding needs.
And, the response wasn’t all together positive Hummel did say he had an enthusiastic parent step up and volunteer to chair the committee.
The first committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at the district offices, 711 Porter. The meeting is open to the public.