LOS ANGELES — A northern Idaho school superintendent wants state legislators to allow school districts to use sales tax increases to pay for school construction.
Local school district funding in the state has traditionally come from property tax increases.
Robert Donaldson, superintendent of Lewiston Independent School District No. 1, said he plans to discuss the proposal on Dec. 8 with three legislators who represent the area during an annual meeting scheduled with state lawmakers before the legislature reconvenes on Jan. 12.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, Rep. Dan Rudolph, D-Lewiston, and Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, represent the region in Boise.
The idea arose after a 10-year, half-cent sales tax, used to pay for the Nez Perce County Jail, was retired in October, Donaldson said.
More than 80% of voters voted in favor of the sales tax ballot measure to fund jail construction in 2004, he said.
The school district has not experienced the same level of success with ballot measures to fund plans to either build a new high school, or expand the existing high school, originally constructed in 1928.
Over the past decade, voters have voted down property tax increases in 2004 to raise $36 million; and in 2010 and 2011, both to raise $60 million for school construction. Like the sales tax, the school measures need a super majority to pass. The 2010 attempt received 62% of the vote and the 2011 attempt received 55% of the vote. The measures needed 66 and 2/3% voter approval to pass.
The school district wants to move the 9th graders out of its three junior high buildings and into the high school, but the high school currently only has the capacity to serve the 1000 students enrolled, Donaldson said. In order to move forward on the program, he said, the high school would need to accommodate an additional 400 students.
The school district has been talking to its bond counsel about three different scenarios. The favorite is for a 25-year half-cent sales tax increase that would provide $50 million, Donaldson said.
Property tax increases are a tough sell in Lewiston, which has a large population of retirees living on fixed incomes, Donaldson said.
"It seemed that property tax impacts all these fixed income people in way that is not palatable to them," he said. "They view sales tax as more of a shared responsibility."
Tourists, drawn to the area known for its hunting and fishing, would also shoulder the sales tax burden, he said.