Why District 25 needs supplemental levy

By District 25 Board of Trustees
On Feb. 10, the voters in School District 25 will have an opportunity again to demonstrate their support for public education.  On that day, they must make a crucial choice about the educational future of the 12,000 students our district serves.  At issue is a supplemental property tax levy of $7.5 million, requested by the Board of Trustees to support continuation of our basic programs.  This levy is not new.  Indeed, our district has depended for more than 50 years on supplemental levies to bridge the gap between the revenues we receive from regular state and federal sources and the actual cost of the services we are required to provide. 
In November, when the board set the levy election date and amount, we could easily agree on the continued need for the levy.  We struggled more with the need to increase the levy amount in such chaotic economic times.  However, even then it was clear that our fixed costs (for utilities, insurance, etc.) were going to rise by $1.3 million to $1.5 million for next year alone; and it was also clear that extra help from the state was unlikely.  Ultimately, we decided to ask the voters for the increase we could see we needed.
Since then, the financial picture has only gotten worse.  The day after our vote, the Governor announced hold backs from this year’s budget, to be covered at least in part by the State’s Education Stabilization Fund.  More recently, we have been told to expect significant reductions in state funding for next year.  Thus, even with the passage of the supplemental levy, we will still need to make major budget cuts and/or spend precious reserve funds.
We would like to remind you that our district already has an extremely lean budget.  For the past 10 years or so, prior to this year, we had a pattern of declining enrollment which meant less state revenue.  During those years, to reduce costs, we closed three elementary schools and a middle school; we consolidated duplicate high school programs; we trimmed staff to match minimum state allowances; and we implemented an aggressive energy conservation program which has saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Our food service and transportation programs are among the most efficient in the state. 
However, in those same years, we have had to meet many new requirements such as the testing and remediation programs associated with the No Child Left Behind law; reading and math  initiatives; and implementing a high school redesign to meet new graduation requirements.  It’s a matter of having to do more and more with less and less. 
The supplemental levy does not go to supporting particular programs or providing for “extras” we might easily do without.  Rather, it is central to our whole educational program since it makes up about 9 percent of our General Fund Budget.  With the proposed increase, it will be approximately 11 percent.  Should the levy fail, it is impossible to imagine where we could make cuts of that magnitude and still have a functioning system.  
So even as we recognize the severe economic hardship many in our community may be facing, we also recognize the obligation we have to provide a solid educational foundation for our 12,000 children, even and perhaps especially, in hard times.  We can expect no help from the State Legislature; we can’t predict what changes may happen at the federal level; and we can’t print money.  Our only choice is to come to you — our local community — and ask for your continuing support for our local school children.  Please vote “yes” on Feb. 10. 
This article was written by Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 trustees Marianne Donnelly, Janie Gebhardt, Frank Rash, Brent Leavitt and John Sargent.