KAMIAH – Kamiah may have a bad rep for not passing school levies in the past, but that isn’t stopping the Kamiah Joint School District (KJSD) board 304 from going for an unprecedented two-year levy request.
At a special board meeting Jan. 8, the board of trustees voted to run a two-year, $647,000 ($647,000 request for two years) override levy in March to fund school operations and maintenance for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
“This amount is desperately needed just to maintain facilities and programs in a district that has been chronically underfunded,” said superintendent Steve Higgins. He explained that state funding is earmarked and leaves little flexibility in allocating resources. At current state funding levels, an average of 85 percent of school districts across the state rely on supplemental override levies to maintain facilities and programs.
Higgins said the board feels a two-year levy will allow for some financial stability as well as a chance to plan.
“Not only for the district, staff and students, but also for the patrons,” Higgins stated.
After a failed levy attempt in 2019, the Kamiah School District has taken drastic measures to balance the books. Cost reductions were achieved by continuing a no-frills approach, offering only basic classes and relying heavily on online offerings, reducing classified staff, shuttering the middle school, crowding students and faculty into two 1950s-era buildings, enacting a four-day school week and deferring needed upgrades and repairs.
“There are few additional options for slashing the budget and maintaining a safe and inspiring learning environment,” Higgins added.
Among other things, levy funds would be used for upgrading heating and cooling systems and completing the installation of security camera systems. Additionally, the district would look at opportunities to reduce crowding and offer additional classes.
Higgins emphasized that the levy would not restore the district to an optimal funding level; however, it would reverse the downward funding trend and allow for improvements to both programs and facilities.
Although the failure of the levy could have dire consequences, Higgins said, the board is currently focusing on the positives that can be accomplished with passage rather than listing the negatives.
Higgins said the district has a $3.8 million budget and state funding provides about $3.4 million.
“Right off the bat, before even opening a door, that leaves us with about a $400,000 deficit,” Higgins said. “And there’s so much for than that which needs addressed.”
The $647,000 levy proposal was prepared prior to the reauthorization of funding through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. According to Higgins, it is not clear how much funding the district will receive from that reauthorization during the next two years; however, the allocation has historically been around $200,000.
Higgins emphasized that those funds cannot be relied upon as an annual funding component, although “they will be very helpful as our district works to maintain current facilities as required by state code,” he said.
Higgins said he feels the district has been consistent and transparent and feels they deserve the community’s support for the schools.
“We need for people to take this seriously, get out and vote – don’t be complacent, because that can lose a levy,” he said.
“These schools are the foundation of our community; a community that is experiencing significant upgrades to its medical clinic and will soon be the beneficiary of a new Forest Service office. I sincerely hope patrons will support efforts to improve student safety and improve educational programs with the goal of providing academic excellence for our students and more access for the community,” Higgins concluded.