BOISE -- Following KTVB's report on schools on the brink of financial crisis, or even bankruptcy in some cases, viewers had more questions about the costs schools have and if they could cut more.
Many districts say they've been creative in cuts and in generating their own revenue, by doing things like leasing school property or leasing to cell phone companies to allow cell towers on football fields, like in Meridian. They say they can't cut more and their savings accounts will be gone if operational funding from the state doesn't get restored soon.
We cut supplies. We cut everything we could cut. Because there were some things we couldn't cut. You can't cut heat and lights. You can't cut fuel, Dr. Linda Clark, Meridian School District, said.
Cuts vs. costs: How much things have changed since 2009
KTVB obtained data from a number of agencies to see the numbers on funding, costs and how much local taxpayers are filling the gap.
Since the deepest cuts began in 2009, operational funding has gone down 21.44 percent, according to numbers from the Department of Education. That's what schools use to pay for things from textbooks to electric bills to fuel.
Looking at fuel as one of those sample costs that schools say are rising: A gallon of gas has gone up 38.52 percent since 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Idaho Utilities Commission says electricity has gone up an average of 32 percent in five years for commercial customers. In Meridian, the cost increase has been less than the average, but still more expensive than before with a 21 percent change over five years. The school's spokesman says they've implemented a number of energy efficiency programs, so their increase is less severe.
Health insurance premiums for employees have gone up. The Meridian School District, for example, has seen a 22.7 percent increase in payments (monthly employee contributions have also gone up $14 on top of that). That district also used to pay in $423 per year in dental for employees, but no longer covers that type of insurance.
Lawmakers and other politicians say it's time to start restoration
Those rising school costs coupled with cuts are prompting conversations at the Statehouse. Already, people from the governor to Senate Education Committee chair are saying beginning to restore operations is top priority.
That's the funding that keeps the lights on and keeps heat in the schools. Some schools use it to pay benefits for educators. Those are expenses that are unavoidable, and I think it's the first thing we're going to have to restore, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said.
While many lawmakers, as well as the governor and superintendent of public instruction, say they want the funding to start being restored, many of those same people say they want to see some of the creative savings that has happened through the recession continue even as funds begin to return.
Local taxpayers paying more than ever in supplemental levies
In terms of what local taxpayers have been picking up in the last several years: Just before the cuts, voter-approved supplemental levies for districts our state totaled just over $100 million a year, according to the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. Today, it's closer to $200 million.
According to a report provided to KTVB by the center's director Mike Ferguson (who also served as the state's chief economist for 25 years), the following breakdown shows the number of Idaho public school districts using supplemental override levies and the amount spent each property tax year. 2009 is when the deepest state cuts to operational funding came.
2007: $101,031,078 (60 districts)
2008: $108,093,637 (61 districts)
2009: $113,966,808 (70 districts)
2010: $136,286,767 (83 districts)
2011: $139,631,365 (81 districts)
2012: $168,961,794 (84 districts)
2013: $185,523,020 (89 districts)
To read Ferguson's published report from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, click here.
KTVB viewer feedback (via Facebook)
The following are excerpts from a sample of the comments KTVB received on the station's Facebook page after the original Schools in Crisis story aired.
Stefanie ONeill: This has little to do with a shortage of funds and much to do with misallocation of funds.
Alene Knox: WHAT is wrong with YEAR Round schools, using the buildings ALL year around - get rid of the waste of NOT using the buildings? Ever hear of a BUDGET that people stick to?
Kristiana Clark: I get so sick of the fundraisers though. I feel like they're peddling the children out to make money. That's not how it should be done.
Treva Keeton: The ones who suffer are our children. There is no excuse for this, schools should be our top priority...All these kids will grow up to run our country! I want to know that they are educated enough to handle that responsibility...
Kaycee Cron: I feel bad for towns like Council. They are trying really hard it seems, but still struggling to educate kids. It shouldn't be that way, even in a small district!
Doni Miller: My daughter said her school is almost out of paper. WHAT?
Valerie Korte Murray: I don't think there is a school anywhere in Idaho that has not felt the lack of funds for each of the school districts. Without funds teachers have to buy the materials needed.
Erika Leigh: It's not in Idaho. Schools across the nation are starting to face deficits. Blame the way too many mandates on our public schools. Schools are being forced to fund certain programs and other financially irresponsible changes.
Connie Shelp: Maybe some of these schools should get rid of some administrators and funnel that money to the teachers and supplies etc....check out the administration in your school districts and tell me that cannot be whittled away.