Idaho lawmakers have ensured that our pesky school districts won’t rip off taxpayers in the name of educating children.
What a relief that is. Once again, the Legislature has managed to save us from a non-existent crisis — and further erode our rights in the process.
On Thursday, a bill cleared the House State Affairs Committee that says school districts and other taxing boards must wait a year before re-proposing a levy or bond that fails the first time around, even if the proposal is adjusted to better meet taxpayer suggestions.
Presented by Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, the bill passed with a vote of 13-1.
This legislation could spell disaster for Idaho’s already beleaguered public schools, which increasingly have to rely on bonds and levies to meet students’ basic needs because the Legislature isn’t adequately funding local schools. It’s even worse news for smaller, rural school districts like Shoshone and Wendell, where bonds have proved difficult to pass.
So not only is the Legislature stiffing local schools, it’s now seeking to limit districts’ only recourse — levies and bonds. Talk about adding insult to injury.
It is the Legislature’s insistence on stripping local communities of the liberty to decide when and how often to supplement local school funding that has us most alarmed. We simply don’t believe lawmakers in Boise know better than parents in Shoshone.
Or district administrators, for that matter. When a bond fails to meet the required two-thirds supermajority, it’s typical for districts to circle back with voters to find out why it failed, and then tweak the proposal so it better aligns with what voters want.
That doesn’t sound like greedy school districts reaching into taxpayer pockets. That sounds like underfunded schools trying to meet the basic needs of their students, and voters having a say in when and how it’s done.
In defense of the bill, Scott has said it is needed to keep rogue taxing districts from repeatedly pestering voters for more money. If that’s the case, the bill needs to be more narrowly tailored to exempt schools (although we’re not aware of any rogue cemetery districts repeatedly seeking the same failed bond over and over, either).
Besides, voters already have recourse if they feel they’re being overly burdened by repeat requests for bonds and levies: They can vote out the people on the boards of those taxing districts, including public schools.
As Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer told the Times-News earlier this month, just because ballot measures are defeated doesn’t mean the need goes away. Wendell still needed a new roof in 2016, and Shoshone still needs a new vocational building, which it’s asking voters to approve March 13. And if the school district’s updated proposal still doesn’t sit well with voters, it will simply fail again.
That’s how democracy works.
We urge the House to consider Idaho’s parents, teachers and voters when this bill comes to the floor, and not the handful of their misguided colleagues who think they know better.