It’s not often that a proposed levy attracts widespread community support from parents and other residents as well as business and civic leaders. But Boise faces just that kind of issue on March 13, when voters will determine the fate of a temporary, five-year, supplemental school levy needed to cover a $14 million per year projected deficit beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.
Boise’s schools face this deficit for simple and indisputable reasons: because of cuts in state funding and a decline in property-tax revenue. School district administrators have been responsible and accountable in cutting expenses while shielding the classroom from the cuts so far, keeping class sizes small and maintaining high-quality academic and other programs. All four of Boise’s traditional high schools are on the Washington Post list of the top high schools in America. In fact, of all the larger districts on that list, only 20 placed all of their high schools on it. Boise is one of those 20 outstanding school districts.
Personnel—mostly teachers—make up nearly 90 percent of the Boise School District budget. No small, one-time input of state money or further surgical cuts to administrative positions, textbooks, bus service, or any tiny line item can amount to more than a drop in the bucket of a deficit projected at $70 million over the five-year life of the proposed levy. The math is straightforward: a $14 million shortfall equates to 230 teachers. If the levy does not pass, the District will have no choice but to make deep cuts in staff, increasing class sizes across all schools, and cuts in programs like Advanced Placement, AVID, Gifted and Talented, Dual Language, music, art, athletics, and electives that have given us one of the best school districts in America.
Over the past several months, hundreds of community members have publicly stated their support for our schools and the levy, from parents and educators to numerous business leaders, Mayor Dave Bieter, and the entire City Council. (You can find all supporters listed, along with many testimonials of support, at www.yesforboiseschools.org.)
Across the board, they give the same reasons for urging voters to pass the levy—foremost that excellent local schools are critically important for preparing our children for college and careers in an increasingly competitive world economy. But they also argue that having top-ranked public schools has enriched our community through fueling a vibrant economy, helping businesses and institutions recruit top talent, and providing the foundation of healthy neighborhoods.
It’s rare for a community to be presented with a decision momentous enough to shape, for many years into the future, the kind of city we live in. I believe the vote on this temporary levy is one of those decisions. Its failure would precipitate the deepest cuts in the history of the Boise School District, affecting the quality of education our children receive for many years to come.
Its passage will make a powerful statement that Boiseans are willing to pay a small price to maintain public schools recognized as among the best in the nation. It will demonstrate that we understand that the benefits of excellent schools transmit not just to our kids, but also to our neighborhoods, local economy and culture, and our future.
I urge everyone to vote yes on March 13.
Mike Lanza is the father of two children in Boise public schools and a co-chair of the volunteer group Friends of Boise Schools (www.yesforboiseschools.org), which is advocating for passage of the $14 million per year, temporary, five-year levy.