School board appoints three trustees

Jessica Ausman and Jason Carman will join the Kootenai School District Board of Trustees in July, and John Myhre will be back for another term.

Ausman, Carman and Myhre were appointed to the three seats expiring June 30. They all filed documents to run for election, and all were unopposed. Under Idaho law, the current school trustees could appoint unopposed candidates, thereby saving the cost of an election.

This is exactly what District 274 trustees did at their meeting April 15. The new trustees will be sworn in at the July meeting.

Ausman, representing Zone 1, will replace Will Butler, and Carman, from Zone 4, will replace Dr. Martha George. Neither Butler nor George ran. John Myhre currently represents Zone 5 and will continue to do so.

Trustees also officially approved the results of the school levy election held March 12, which was approved with more than 55 percent of the vote.The precinct tallies were as follows—

  • Precinct 67 (Arrow Point), 18 yes, 36 no, 54 ballots cast.
  • Precinct 68 (CrossroadsChurch), 53 yes, 11 no, 64 ballots cast.
  • Precinct 70 (HarrisonSeniorCenter), 98 yes, 64 no, 162 ballots cast.
  • Precinct 73 (ABS), 32 yes, 45 no, 77 ballots cast.
  • Precinct 62 (St. Maries), 2 yes, 5 no, 7 ballots cast.

The board accepted the resignation of bus driver Kitty Wolf, effective at the end of the current school year. Wolf will continue as a substitute driver.

Ninth-grader Hope Grasham appeared before the board to request financial help to attend the Business Professionals Association annual competition in Florida in May. Grasham won the right to compete in nationals at the state convention. The total cost for her and the club advisor to attend will be $3,445.

The school board voted unanimously to award her a scholarship for the remaining $1,336 needed, but with a caveat: Trustee Mitch Donohue and Supt. Lynette Ferguson asked Grasham to contact businesses and community members for financial help. Any donations will reduce the amount of the district’s contribution by an equal amount.

(Paging Hope Grasham: Congratulations on your achievement. Click and comment on this post and The Current will chip in $25 toward your trip).


I’m back in the saddle again!

No, I haven’t given up blogging the news of fun and funky Harrison, Idaho…but if you’ve checked The Current for the last two months or so, you would have thought so.

The flu hit us hard in mid-February, even though we’d all had flu shots. All 3 of us had it, but not all at once. Not one right after the other, either. One came down with it, another got sick, and finally the last man standing had the flu. For about 10 days, we all had it at once. The flu ran its course in about 3 weeks, but it took nearly 5 weeks to get through the siege.

Then, we took off for the beach in Costa Rica. I’m surprised I bothered to come home. LOL

President’s Day holiday closures

Harrison City Hall will be closed Monday, Feb. 18, in observance of President’s Day. All city employees will have the day off–unless it snows. Public Works staff will plow and sand city streets if needed.

School will be out, too, as students, teachers and staff of Kootenai School District 274 also observe the federal holiday.

As for The Current, the editor’s birthday falls that weekend and she plans to take the day off. You’re only this old once!

Harrison City Council: Still no action on revising parking limits

Harrison still has a parking ordinance, but there’s still no meat on them bones.

The city moved a step closer to filling the gaps in the ordinance when the Harrison City Council on Feb. 5 unanimously approved a loading zone in front of the Grant Building on Coeur d’Alene Avenue. The loading zone isn’t yet a done deal, but it will be included in the new parking rules.

The overall plan is for 4-hour parking zones on city streets. The city council in December repealed the previous 48-hour parking limit to make way for the new rules.

But no one has officially said when the council will vote on the new limits.

There has been a lot of talk about signage vs. painting, and the city is leaning toward painting the roadway and curbs to indicate the parking spaces and time limits. They don’t want to clutter the downtown area with more signs than necessary.

Resolution #2013-1, which will revise the city’s personnel policies, was tabled until the next meeting. Motor vehicle use and employee use of computers/internet will be added to the text of the policy handbook.

An ordinance defining Land Use Applications Procedures had a second reading by title only. A summary of the ordinance will be presented at the next meeting, and a vote is expected.

Mayor Wanda Irish and the council devoted a lot of talk to the problem of feral cats and wild raccoons within the city limits. She has fielded 3 lengthy phone calls from neighbors in the 200 block of Frederick concerning the animals, which are being fed by a resident. The absentee owner of the affected property is cooperating with the city, she said. No official action was taken.

The mayor announced that approximately half of the Local Improvement District payments were collected before the Jan. 31 deadline. In the first few days of February, the city received enough late payments to bring the amount up to about 75% compliance.

Irish said that the Powderhorn land development did not pay property taxes in December. It’s the third year in a row they haven’t paid. If payment isn’t made, the property would become subject to a tax deed sale in May, said City Attorney Nancy Wolff.

In addition to Mayor Irish, councilors Ron Elliott, Jeff Hall, Rusty Riberich and Council President Mark Wagner were present at the meeting. Will Butler and Rich Lund did not attend.

The council also held an executive session to discuss pending or expected litigation concerning the Powderhorn and Stonegate developments, Panhandle State Bank and the Urban Renewal Agency.

The next Harrison City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m.,Tuesday, March 5, at city hall. The agenda will be posted outside of city hall and at other locations around town on Friday, March 1.

School board evaluates superintendent, accepts driver’s ed instructor’s resignation

A proposed school levy (see related story below) wasn’t the only topic at Kootenai School District 274′s Board of Trustees meeting Monday, Jan. 14. While the proposed levy was definitely the hot topic, trustees also listened and talked about other issues.

The meeting lasted for nearly three hours before trustees had Superintendent Lynette Ferguson leave the room and went into executive session so they could discuss her annual performance evaluation. Idaho law permits closed executive sessions for public officials to discuss personnel matters.

The results of Ferguson’s evaluation will be shared with her privately by the board chairman, Will Butler.

Trustees also accepted the resignation of Don Heikkila, who, since 1971, has taught scores of Kootenai High School students to drive. With Heikkila’s departure, the district will no longer be able to offer behind-the-wheel driver’s training.

“He has nerves of steel,” said Trustee Mitch Donohoe, adding that Heikkila had taught all of the children in his family to drive.

Trustees want to honor Heikkila for his years of service. They also are reluctant to let driver’s education go. They would like to hire another instructor or contract with another school district for service. This year, at least, behind-the-wheel instruction won’t be offered, although students will be able to take the written test.

Driver’s ed never was a money-maker. Families paid $125 per student to take the course, but the district still lost $785 on it last year.

Supt. Ferguson announced that the Title I after-school reading program will be held this year from February through May. It will be scheduled so it does not conflict with the federally-funded after-school KITE program. Students who qualify for the reading program will be able to participate in both, Ferguson said.

Trustees voted to sell a retired school bus for $500. The bid was opened in December, but the decision was delayed by a month so that the district could research the value as scrap metal.

The meeting was attended by trustees Will Butler, Mitch Donohoe, Martha George and John Myrhe. Jon Verquist was absent.

The next school board meeting will be held Monday, Feb. 11, at Kootenai Junior High School. The public may attend.

School district to ask voters for supplemental tax levy in March

Kootenai School District 274 trustees decided Monday, Jan. 14, to ask voters in March for the biggest supplemental tax levy in the school district’s history.

It wasn’t a decision made lightly, with trustees weighing the pros and cons for over half of a three-hour meeting. They finally voted 4-0 to ask for a $1.2 million supplemental levy next year and the year after for a total of $2.4 million.

The discussion began with Superintendent Lynette Ferguson detailing a bare-bones budget that only held the line with this year’s figures. Then, she presented a menu of modest increases in salaries, technology, and other needs, including a set-aside to replace a school bus in about two years.

Trustees went through the list, item by item, agreeing with some, rejecting others and cutting amounts for still more.

The district’s financial woes cut across the entire spectrum of school funding–with a special twist.

State school support, which pays for the majority of Idaho education costs, has been cut every year in recent memory. In 2007, state funds accounted for 84 percent of the district’s revenue. By last year, after several years of steady cuts, state funds paid only 64 percent of the tab, leaving property taxpayers to pick up the rest through supplemental tax levies.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has asked the state legislature for a 2 percent increase, but no one knows yet if it will be approved, or for how much.

Last year Luna promised Idaho schools $33 million to fund his educational initiatives, which voters soundly defeated in November. The money’s still there. Now the Idaho Attorney General has ruled that the Department of Education does not have the authority to release these funds to schools–even the promised math and science allocations that were included in the local school district’s budget this year.

The special twist is that state school support is based on the number of students, and student population in District 274 is shrinking. Even with a bigger percentage of state money, the district could get fewer actual dollars based on the number of students. Ferguson estimates the district will educate between 208 and 211 pupils this year. And, with a second-grade class with only 4 students, a smaller district is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Trustees were mindful that their auditor told them last month that they need to add to the district’s fund balance in order to equalize cash flow throughout the year. There is an 8-month lag between receipt of the second half of property taxes and when the check is sent to the schools. As a result, there are four months of the school year–February through May–when the district receives zero property tax money to pay its bills.

A small amount of the proposed budget will be budgeted to increase staff salaries. While the amount is 1-1/2 percent above the current level, it won’t translate to an across-the-board increase for teachers or classified staff. Rather, the extra funds will allow the district to bring some of its classified wages in line with neighboring districts.

Classified employees are non-professional and para-professional employees such as instructional aides, bus drivers, secretaries, cooks and custodians. They are typically paid by the hour. Neither teachers nor classified staff has received a raise in 4 years, and classified employees actually took pay cuts two years ago.

Trustee Will Butler grumbled about the technology items, which will include replacing switches and servers to the current outdated computer system. “I’m a book kind of guy,” he declared.

“This is the same thing,” shot back John Myrhe. “Computers are the new books.” Butler grudgingly agreed.

Two years ago, voters gave the district nearly $1.3 million over two years–$647,000 annually. That supplemental levy will expire after this year and be removed from property tax bills. The proposed new supplemental levy would be in place of the existing levy, not in addition to it.

Trustees had to dip into other funds to make up a shortfall this year. Now there are no other funds to tap.

“We have scrimped and scrimped and scrimped, and now we are at the bottom of the barrel,” the superintendent told trustees. “There is no place left to go.”

Ferguson will release the exact budget figures at the Feb. 11 trustees’ meeting, but it’s definite for now: school patrons will have the opportunity to vote on a new, two-year supplemental levy, replacing the old one, on March 4. And the amount will be $2.4 million, or $1.2 million for each of two years.

–© Maxine Sullivan


City council reviews application to replace Harrison boat ramp next fall

Kootenai County Parks & Waterways has filed an application with the State of Idaho and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to replace the Harrison boat ramp. The project would begin in October and be finished in December.

Mayor Wanda Irish and the Harrison City Council favorably reviewed the project at the council meeting Jan. 8.

The application, contained in a memorandum from the Idaho Department of Lands, indicates the new launch will be approximately 25 feet wide by 125 feet long.

In order to demolish the old ramp and construct the new, an area approximately 50 feet wide by 150 feet long will be de-watered by installing vertical sheet piling and using high-volume evacuation pumps to create a dry work area. A similar project was recently completed at Hauser Lake.

The lands department wants to receive public comments, recommendations or objections by Feb. 6. The address is Idaho Department of Lands, 3258 West Industrial Loop, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83815.

The mayor and city council plan to write a letter in support of the project and also encouraged the public to write letters.

In a mostly routine meeting, the city council also—

  • Gave final approval for liquor license renewals to Gateway Marina, Harrison Trading Co., The Landing, One Shot Charlie’s and Shepherd Fruit Wines;
  • Re-appointed Samantha Haines, city clerk; Paula Anderson, city treasurer; and Nancy Wolff, of Morris & Wolff PA, city attorney.
  • Had the first reading, by title only, of Ordinance No. 447, to amend Title 9 of the municipal code. Title 9 relates to land-use planning. Second and third readings and a vote will be taken at the February council meeting.
  • Reviewed and discussed the city’s personnel policy with the assistant city attorney, Mariah Pugh. Because of the large number of changes, a clean copy of the personnel policy will be presented at the next meeting.

What wasn’t on the agenda this month was a resolution establishing new parking limits in Harrison. In December, the city council repealed the 48-hour parking limit.

The city council went into executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss the Powderhorn and Stonegate developments and the Urban Renewal Agency. Under Idaho law, the council may meet in closed session to discuss legal issues concerning pending or likely litigation.

The next city council meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Harrison City Hall. All city council meetings, except executive sessions, are open to the public.

–Maxine Sullivan


Harrison Trading Co. to be closed New Year’s Day

Harrison Trading Co. will be closed Tuesday, Jan. 1, according to owner Tina Smythe. The store will be open Dec. 31 during regular business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The bakery will operate throughout the weekend and Monday. However, quantities of fresh-baked goods may be lower than normal on Sunday and Monday. Anyone requesting a special order during this period should call the store a day ahead at (208) 689-3211.

District 274 approves land purchase for waste water facility; receives clean audit

Trustees of Kootenai School District 274 on Tuesday, Dec. 10, finalized the purchase of 39 acres of land for a new waste water management facility.

The property surrounds the fire station across O’Gara Road from the school and includes the 20 acres the district currently leases for effluent disposal. The purchase price is $156,000—that’s $4,000 per acre—and the deal must close by Dec. 15.

Money for the purchase is coming from the $2 million bond issue approved by voters in August.

Steve Cordes of Welch-Comer Engineers told trustees that the ground is suitable for the project and that test holes went down 13 feet without hitting rock. “It’s as good a piece of ground as you could have for what you’re planning to do,” Cordes declared.

The vote to buy the property came in public session, after the trustees came back from an executive session where it was discussed along with personnel matters. Idaho law permits closed executive sessions to discuss personnel, litigation and property acquisitions.

Trustees also heard a report from Brad Lewis, managing partner of Hayden Ross, the Moscow certified public accounting firm that audits the school district’s books.

The bad news is that the district spent more than it took in last year. The good news is that there were no irregularities in the accounts and the fund balance more than covered the overage.

But there is only $49,873 remaining in the fund balance, and Lewis cautioned the board that about $115,000 is needed in the account to be “comfortable” over the next few years. Delays of about seven months in the receipt of state school funding and property tax revenues are reasons for dipping into the fund balance to pay the bills.

Superintendent Lynette Ferguson reminded trustees that they will have to decide at the January meeting whether to ask voters for a supplemental tax levy in March. Among other needs, the levy would be one way to add to the fund balance, she said.

Mike LaFountaine, Harrison Elementary teacher and district technology guru, discussed technology needs over the next five to seven years. He distributed an inventory of all of the computers, switches and servers. Most of the computers were hand-me-downs from the Kellogg School District.

The greatest needs are to replace the server and some of the switches in 2013, he said. They are old and slow. “I have to be worried about where we are going with all this old equipment,” he added.

The superintendent admitted that she no longer relies on the district server for her own computing needs.

In other business, trustees also—

  • Hired TJ Hammond to coach JV basketball and Ken Pearson to drive the Carlin Bay bus route;
  • Approved the hiring of two substitute bus drivers pending approval of their background checks;
  • Received a bid for $500 for a retired school bus but didn’t decide whether to accept it. Before the next trustees’ meeting, the school district will research what the old bus is worth for scrap metal.

All five trustees—Will Butler, Mitch Donohoe, Martha George, John Myhre and Jon Verkist —were present at the meeting. The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, at Kootenai Junior High.

–Maxine Sullivan