Friday, November 10, 2006

School superintendent missed the mark

Commentary by Bruce Norvell

I wish to comment on factual inaccuracies contained in the guest opinion of school superintendent Jim Lewis, in which he advocated "no" on the advisory vote regarding the Property Tax Relief Act of 2006 (The Act).

Dr. Lewis stated The Act " ... shifts all funding to the state level ...".

In response, I must first relate facts that pertain to Blaine County residents:

- Idaho school districts are funded by state of Idaho contributions, local property taxes, and other minor sources. Idaho contributions to districts are comprised of several components, including "state educational support funds" (Support). Prior to The Act, the computation of Support payable to each school district included an offset of up to .3 percent of the district's taxable property value, or $300 for each $100,000 of taxable value. The Idaho funding components to each district, plus the offset reduction, are intended to equal district expenditures at a basic level as determined by Idaho, without regard to the varying actual costs incurred by the districts.

- In recent years the .3 percent offset substantially reduced Support for the Blaine County and three other school districts with high property values. The Act eliminated the .3 percent offset in computing Support to be paid to school districts, and Blaine County will thus receive additional funding of $3.96 million from Idaho during its fiscal year 2006-2007. This additional funding, divided by Blaine County's taxable property value on Jan. 1, 2006, of $11.16 billion, is .03548 percent of year 2006 taxable value, or $35.48 per $100,000.

- The Act impacted the portion of property tax bills known as the M&O (for maintenance and operations) levy. Prior to The Act, school districts were permitted to impose, without voter approval, an M&O levy of up to .3 percent against taxable property values. Most districts imposed the maximum .3 percent levy, to realize school funding at a basic level as mentioned above. The Act prohibits these optional levies in future years except for Blaine County and the three other school districts whose Support had been reduced as mentioned above. For these four districts, The Act limits the optional future levy to a specific constant dollar amount—$29.5 million for Blaine County.

- Table 1 of the Blaine County School District financial statements for the fiscal year 2005-2006 indicates that property taxes comprised about 67 percent of the $51.29 million school district revenues. Of the $33.5 million of property taxes levied by the school district, Table 7 indicates that the M&O levy accounted for 74 percent of the latter total, or $24.9 million.

- The Act does not materially affect funding of the Blaine County School District by the state of Idaho except as mentioned in the above second factual bullet.

- The Act does not materially constrain the Blaine County School District from financing its operations except as mentioned in the above third factual bullet.

The two line items for school taxes on my year 2005 property tax bill comprise 69 percent of my total taxes; the M&O levy alone is 51 percent of the total. I would realize a huge tax decrease if Dr. Lewis' statement is true, that The Act shifted all school funding to the state level. But his statement is false, and I won't see a school levy decrease resulting from The Act in my tax bill for 2006 and future years.

Dr. Lewis also stated that our school district " ... will receive their share of state appropriations but are "frozen" at current levels." In fact, The Act does not contain a provision that freezes the state appropriation for our school district at any particular level.

Dr. Lewis also stated that "Any increase in state revenue to support new students ... will be deducted from local property tax revenues." In fact, no provision of The Act serves to deduct state revenues from local property taxes.


Bruce Norvell is a resident of Bellevue.

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