Voters decide March 12 whether to renew a $400,000 annual supplemental levy for the next two years for the Challis school district's operational fund.

The money would be used to buy textbooks and classroom supplies and to fund various programs, including extracurricular activities.It also helps pay wages and benefits for teacher’s aides, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and food service workers. The state provides less than half of those salaries and benefits.

Challis school board members voted Jan. 9 to put the levy question to voters since the school cannot fund existing programs without it. Basically, all school operations would be adversely affected and substantial cuts would be necessary if voters turn down the levy, Superintendent Lani Rembelski said. 

“This keeps the status quo?” asked board Chairman Brett Plummer.

“Yes,” Rembelski said. School district patrons approved the last supplemental levy in 2017 in the same amount, $400,000 per year. Under Idaho law, the question must go before voters every two years. Challis voters have never turned one down since the district started putting it on the ballot a decade or more ago. A renewal of the current levy means no tax increase for the school portion of property tax bills.

Passage of the levy would make the district’s finances more secure. Auditor Gary Merkle last year advised District Business Manager Shawna Getty, administrators and school board members that Challis should have one and a half to three months of reserves for school operations, Rembelski said. The district now has two weeks worth of savings. 

Trustees agreed to put together talking points to educate voters about the levy’s importance. The district cannot pay for promotional materials and school administrators and trustees are prohibited from lobbying on behalf of the levy. They can only state the financial need and what the levy pays for. Rembelski has prepared an outline of the talking points, and Jolie Turek, executive director of Custer Economic Development Association, has agreed to help pay to print and distribute a brochure and to work on a Facebook “infomercial,” Plummer said.

Meetings in various locations around the district should be part of the education effort, Rembelski said. Although attendance at such meetings has been sparse in the past, she said they help get the word out to key community members.

Before the great recession and the state's switch from the property tax to the sales tax for school operations and maintenance, Idaho schools received more revenue. Since 2008 school districts have relied more on supplemental levies to balance their budgets. In 2016 and 2017, 93 of Idaho's 115 school districts asked voters to approve supplemental levies.

For the Challis levy to pass, a simple majority of voters must approve it on March 12.

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