Show Us the Money!
By Mark Barnes
Published on the Parents for Advancing Education Facebook page and in the pamphlet that opposed the supplemental levy that went out to many area voters prior to the March 11 levy election, it stated Kuna has the highest levy rate in the area and that Kuna is 35 percent higher than Boise or Vallivue.
Well, it depends upon which taxes you are looking at. According to our research, Kuna is actually one of the lowest taxed districts when it comes to property taxes. What levy opponents are telling you is that a larger piece of that smaller pie goes towards school funding than in other districts. Overall, however, Kuna residents pay less total property taxes, even with a supplemental levy.
Although the upcoming May 20 supplemental levy election is about school funding, not all school funding comes from property taxes. The supplemental levy amounts to just 11 percent of the budget. Kuna has relied more on their supplemental levy over the years because of decreased funding from the state.
Where does school funding come from and is Kuna getting their fair share?
Let’s compare apples to apples. In 2011-2012 the state gave the district a total of $20,670,657 from the foundation and other sources. Some of this money was earmarked for spending on specific programs such as school nutrition, transportation and other specialty programs. Other sources of revenue included grants, carryover from the year before, a $9 million refinancing (see other article on page 1) and the supplemental levy that passed in August of 2011.
Let’s look at state (general fund) revenue when we compare to other school districts. For state funding alone in 2011-2012, (not including federal, grant or supplemental levies), among a dozen area school districts, Kuna ranked last ($4,548 per student); 9.2 percent less than Meridian, 18.7 percent less than Melba, and 63.2 percent less than Boise. In fact, out of the 159 school districts and charter schools in 2011-2012, Kuna ranked 149th in funding received from the state per student. In 2013-2014, according to Kuna School District, Kuna ranked second to last among the state’s 115 school districts.
So where do school districts make up the difference between what they spend per student versus what they get from the state? Just a few years ago the state provided much more in education funding but due to the recession they shifted the burden of school funding to local school districts who were forced to pass supplemental levies to keep their schools open, their teachers hired and to maintain budgets. Prior to 2008, only 41 percent of school districts statewide needed levies. Today, that figure has doubled to 82 percent.
Nationwide, Idaho is ranked 50th out of 51 states and D.C. in per pupil funding per student. The U.S. average funding per student is more than double that of Kuna. Pro-levy supporters are asking levy opponents if this is a competition to be the poorest funded school district in the country?
Supporters of the supplemental levy mostly want it to maintain the current level of education. They tout the excellent education that area children receive despite the limited dollars the district gets. Anti-levy residents oppose it for a variety of reasons. Some argue a lack of spending transparency by the district (Kuna School District does post monthly expense reports on their website). Some argue the spending priorities are wrong. Others oppose it simply because they see it as a tax increase and they wish their taxes to go down.
Opponents ask why the school district keeps requesting supplemental levies every few years. The answer? Administrators say they never anticipated that the state’s cuts for school funding would continue for so long. While the state increased school funding slightly in the last budget that passed, it was not enough to make up for increased costs or growth the district has experienced.
While not much can be done about school funding from state or federal sources in the short term, voters can hold the school district accountable (or hostage depending on point of view) to changes they want to see happen by approving or denying funding they say the district needs to operate.
On May 20, voters will determine whether or not the supplemental levy will maintain the budget at current levels, or tell the school district that it must cut the budget. Either way, this levy battle has gotten people from both sides to get more involved.
At the simplest level, it is a vote about the portion of the property tax that goes to schools. Next week, in Part III, we will look specifically at Kuna property taxes and compare them to other school districts. We’ll also show how we figured that the average Kuna household pay less than 50¢ per day (approximately $15 per month) for the supplemental levy.