Friday, November 10, 2006

Could Proposition 1 defeat spell trouble for schools?

Express Staff Writer

Proposition 1, the controversial school funding initiative, was struck down on Election Day, much to the chagrin of some local educators.

Many say the initiative was subject to a de facto defeat back in August when Gov. Jim Risch called a special session of the Legislature to implement the Property Tax Relief Act of 2006.

"The special legislative session called by Gov. Risch basically killed it," said Julie Dahlgren, Blaine County School Board trustee.

The connection: The state's property tax relief plan was funded by raising the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, the same tax increase that was originally intended to pay for the nearly $219 million in additional education funding under Proposition 1.

Proposition 1 was defeated by nearly 41,000 votes, with roughly 450,000 Idahoans weighing in.

More than 60 percent of Blaine County voters—4,458 people—supported the proposition.

The impact of its defeat will not likely come immediately, one school official said.

"The impact will come five years from now," said Mike Chatterton, Blaine County School District business manager.

Blaine County is unique in the fact that the cost of living is high compared to most of Idaho. The biggest problem could be the district's ability to offer competitive salaries to faculty and staff, salaries high enough to attract teachers to move here and, most importantly, high enough to allow them to afford to stay.

The result is that "we may have to pass supplemental levies four years from now," in order to retain quality teachers, Chatterton said.

"We're like every other school district in the state of Idaho now, in that we're at the whim of the Legislature," Chatterton said.

In the past, there was a steady and relatively predictable revenue stream flowing to schools from property taxes. When legislators axed property tax funding for schools and shifted the burden to the sales tax, school funding became more susceptible to fluctuations in the economy.

For now, Blaine County School District is in better financial shape that most school districts in the state, and has no pressing financial problems, Chatterton said.

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