Community Blog: The EDge

School levies — and property values

Do poorer school districts have a tougher time passing supplemental school levies?

Here’s some more evidence.

To take one more look at Idaho’s growing reliance on supplemental school property tax levies, I work on one more math problem. I looked at the 115 districts’ 2013-14 market value — and their 2013-14 enrollment — to look at market value per student.

The disparity, of course, is wide — but that’s no surprise. Critics of Idaho’s school funding model say the property tax places an unfair burden on poorer school districts, since residents have to pay a disproportionate share to float a levy. And this, according to critics, violates the state constitution — which mandates a thorough and uniform public school system.

The richest district, per pupil, is North Idaho’s tiny Avery School District, with 16 students and $117.7 million in market value. That equates to more than $7.3 million per student.

The poorest district, East Idaho’s Sugar-Salem district, has $250.6 million in market value, but 1,583 students. That comes out to $158,000 per student.

In summary, Avery’s property tax value per pupil is 46 times greater than Sugar-Salem’s, and more than 18 times greater than the statewide per-pupil average of just over $398,000.

Technically, Avery did not have a voter-approved supplemental levy on the books, like 91 districts across Idaho. But Avery is one of a handful of small, property-rich districts that can collect a levy without voter approval. So Avery, Swan Valley and McCall-Donnelly are three of the 94 Idaho school districts that collected a supplemental levy in 2013-14.

Let’s look at the 10 richest districts, based on market value per pupil:

  • Avery: $7,357,389.
  • Swan Valley Elementary: $3,296,319.
  • Kootenai: $2,868,812.
  • Three Creek Elementary: $2,669,068.
  • Blaine County: $2,461,225.
  • McCall-Donnelly: $2,310,980.
  • Challis: $1,621,120.
  • Cascade: $1,564,286.
  • Pleasant Valley Elementary: $1,489,064.
  • Garden Valley: $1,462,985.

Seven of these districts collected supplemental levies in 2013-14: the exceptions were Garden Valley and the tiny Three Creek and Pleasant Valley elementary districts. But in March, Garden Valley voters approved a $500,000 levy for 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Let’s look at the 10 poorest districts:

  • Preston: $191,765.
  • Kuna: $191,702.
  • Ririe: $183,423.
  • Blackfoot: $178,525.
  • Middleton: $176,364.
  • Dietrich: $175,554.
  • Homedale: $164,546.
  • Jefferson County: $164,058.
  • Caldwell: $162,761.
  • Sugar-Salem: $158,307.

Only five of these districts had levies on the books in 2013-14: Kuna, Ririe, Blackfoot, Middleton and Caldwell.

Not surprisingly, these poorer districts have had some difficulties passing levies. Voters in Homedale and Jefferson County turned down levies in 2013. Kuna renewed its levy earlier this year — but only after two attempts, and a bitter community debate that resulted in an unsuccessful recall election targeting trustee Michael Law.

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

Posted in The EDge