MERIDIAN -- With more than 39,000 students enrolled, West Ada has bragging rights as being the largest school district in Idaho. But spanning an area that continues to grow so rapidly, that title comes at a cost.
Average daily attendance is up several hundred students from the same time last year - prompting the school district to certify a levy that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
West Ada School District Spokesman Eric Exline says this year, they had 805 more kids in attendance the first two weeks of school compared to last year.
"Across all grades and all levels," he added. "A little bit heavier in secondary this year. Which I don't really have an explanation for."
That led the West Ada School District Board of Trustees to authorize an emergency fund levy last week in the amount of more than $4 million.
"Based on 805 kids, multiplied by about $5,000 per pupil revenue last year," Exline explained. "The law says if it's an increase by even one [student] you can have an emergency levy."
The board will then submit their request to Ada and canyon Counties (a small portion of the school district boundaries lie in Canyon County), which both have to certify it.
Over the past few years consistently, the district projects about 1,000 new kids based on home sites approved for construction, so this certainly isn't the first time they've run an emergency levy. Exline says they budgeted for 600 new students this year because they keep the projections conservative so as not to waste money and resources.
"It's definitely trending up the last couple years. So you'll probably see our budget number continue to grow upward this year going forward as you get back into that pattern of 1,000 new kids," Exline added.
While they won't technically have the money in hand until it's collected by the assessor's office, Exline tells KTVB the district has already started to use those funds because they are counting on getting it. He says the state frontloads some payments for general operations and the district has some money in reserves.
"We're looking at all the impacts of 900 kids, right. The easiest one is that we had to hire more teachers obviously because we have more kids. But then supplies, technology, all the other things that would come with them," he added. "May need some - not a large number - for overcrowded classroom assistance in some buildings where we get above our class size standards."
You don't vote on an emergency levy in any kind of bond election or general election.
"Because the kids have already arrived," Exline said. "If the answer is no, how are you going to pay for the cost of 805 kids that showed up this year?"
If the counties give the go-ahead, come property tax payment time at the end of the year, taxpayers who own taxable property in the school district boundary will see the emergency levy show up on their bill with an increase in tax dollars owed.
"West Ada School District boundaries only. So that includes Meridian, Eagle, Star, a little bit of Garden City, part of west and southwest Boise is actually in the West Ada School District. But yeah, not the entire county," Exline said.
By law, the district can only increase the levy rate by a certain amount, meaning there is a cap on the amount they can collect. Exline did not know exactly how much a resident who owns $100,000 of taxable property value will pay for the emergency levy on Monday.
"Being a district that has to adapt to 1,000 new kids is a challenge. And it's a challenge for all the communities we serve because it's the taxpayers in the end who get asked to help solve the problem, largely when we have to run school bonds," Exline added.
The district is evaluating whether or not they will run a school bond - most likely for a new high school. Exline says they will discuss the issue in the fall. If they do decide to do so, school district officials would probably put the bond measure on the ballot for voters in March.
"We need to really look at the numbers, projecting out because it takes three years to open a high school," Exline added. "There's a limited way to solve it using just portables and we're pretty much getting there. We can only put so many portables on a school site."
Next door in Nampa, director of communications for the Nampa School District, Kathleen Tuck, says they won't be authorizing an emergency levy this year because enrollment is down. The school district serves about 14,500 students, but this year, they expect to have about 50 to 60 less students than they did at this time last year.
Tuck says they partly attribute that decline to three district-approved charter schools: Pathways in Education is new this year and just opened with nearly 100 kids, while Gem Prep Charter School opened last fall - and in August 2015 they approved a gradual expansion of Idaho Arts Charter.
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