POST FALLS – The city’s massive population growth means more students with educational needs. For the Post Falls School District, this means an urgent need for new schools.
The big question is how to pay for them.
Post Falls Schools Superintendent Dena Naccarato explained the district’s pressing needs to the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
The district needs a new high school, third middle school, eighth elementary school, food service distribution center, office for the internet technology department, and a facility to house the maintenance department.
These necessary upgrades come with high prices. And public school funding for these projects is both “really complex” and inadequate, Naccarato said.
“In 1998, when we built Post Falls High School, that school cost $18 million,” Naccarato said. “It’s 225,000 square feet. To build a “starter high school” that won’t be 225,000 square feet, the cost is $55 million.
Idaho’s funding formula is unlike any other state around us, Naccarato said. Eighty percent of public school funding comes from state funding, 10% comes from local taxes, and 10% comes from federal funding.
“This federal funding comes with strings attached,” Naccarato said. “The money we get from the federal government has to be spent on certain things.”
For example, special education programs are “somewhat” funded by federal funds.
“I say a little because the money isn’t starting to cover the needs we have in our special services division,” Naccarato said.
The district’s needs exceed available funds, she said. Even though the vast majority of the 80% provided by the state is spent on salaries and benefits, teachers and staff are still underpaid.
Post Falls teachers are paid an average of $55,991 per year. The state funds approximately $49,808 per teacher. That leaves the district short by about $6,000 per teacher, or $1.4 million per year.
There are also classified personnel to consider, including paraprofessionals, office and clerical staff, guards and bus drivers, Naccarato said. The district has received notification from the state that it qualifies for 117 classified personnel, which brings in $23,231 per year. The district employs about 300 people, Naccarato said.
To make those numbers work, most classified employees are part-time so the district can make the money go as far as possible, she said.
“The other thing you need to understand is that in the 2021 school year, our starting salary for classified staff was $10.68 an hour,” Naccarato said. “So I asked our school board to approve an increase of more than 20% for our lowest paid staff. This increased the starting salary to $12.68 per hour.
“I think you all drove around town. You’ve seen that McDonald’s hires for $15 an hour. The Metro Carwash is hiring for $16 an hour. It is impossible for Idaho public schools to compete with fast food salaries with the operation of this funding mechanism for our classified personnel.
Until two years ago, funding was calculated based on attendance. When COVID hit, the rules changed. Funding is now based on enrollment. In a district the size of Post Falls, a 95% attendance rate is expected, Naccarato said.
“Not all students are in their place every day. However, we still need a desk for them, books for them, and we still need to turn on the lights,” Naccarato said. “So this move to registration has actually been a very good thing for most districts in Idaho.”
The district determines the number of students who will need teachers. Teachers and certified staff then become what the district calls “support units,” Naccarato said.
“This support unit goes into another funding mechanism to give us discretionary funding,” Naccarato said. “You’re going to hear me say discretionary money isn’t discretionary.”
Discretionary spending is used to cover expenses such as electric bill and water bill, not other expenses, Naccarato said.
Naccarato recalled 2008, when he was principal of Post Falls High School. A snowstorm dropped 3 feet in 24 hours. The electricity bill for about 13 school days that month was $45,000. And it was just one of 11 school buildings in Post Falls, she said.
Another big expense is transportation. State funding covers 85% of these costs, while the district provides the remaining 15%. The cost of each school bus is approximately $100,000, and adapted buses can cost up to $130,000.
School nurses, curriculum, technology, half the cost of school resource officers, part of the KTEC curriculum, facility maintenance, extracurricular activities like athletics, and new schools are all paid for through school levies extra, Naccarato said.
To put those costs into perspective, the K-12 program, district-wide, is about $500,000.
Naccarato addressed “gaps in state funding”. In 2006, the Idaho Legislature decided that people needed property tax relief, she said. At the time, funding for schools depended on property taxes.
To offset the decline in property tax revenue, the state enacted a one-cent sales tax that was used to fund public schools. This sales tax allowance did not cover lost money for school districts, Naccarato said.
“Essentially what’s happened is funding for schools has been cut by over 30%,” she said. “And then, of course, the recession came.”
This change has caused schools in Idaho to rely on supplemental or foundational levies, Naccarato said.
Levies are voted by simple majority and are renewable every two years. Funds raised can be spent at the district’s discretion, Naccarato said.
“After seeing our slides, you know how the Post Falls School District spends its money,” Naccarato said. “We spend it on our people.”
Bond levies are a different situation and can only be used to construct new buildings or to renovate existing buildings. Idaho is one of only two states that requires a supermajority of 66 and two-thirds of the vote to pass.
“Idaho does not match any funds of any kind to build buildings. It is 100% on the taxpayer to make that happen,” she said.
A study by the Office of Performance Evaluation of the operation of Idaho’s school building finance found that 77 of Idaho’s 115 school districts operated from buildings in “fair or poor condition,” Naccarato said. . It has been estimated that it would cost $847 million to restore Idaho’s school buildings to good repair.
“Many of our state’s superintendents are hopeful that the Legislative Assembly will begin to consider whether or not relying on bonds to construct buildings is truly in the best interests of our children in the future,” she said. .
The Post Falls District has been very fiscally conservative, Naccarato said. The additional district levy is $4.955 million per year for two years. The Coeur d’Alene School District levy is $20 million per year for two years. Lakeland Joint School District is $9.5 million per year, for two years.
“We spend about $1,300 per student,” Naccarato said. “You get what you pay for in Post Falls. We continue to do a lot with very little.