The Kamiah School District will restructure itself after voters opposed a one-year maintenance and operations levy Tuesday night.

Superintendent Steve Higgins said he’s disappointed with the results, which likely will lead to significant changes to the district as a whole.

“It’s frustrating and disheartening, but I keep telling my staff we still have a job to do and we are going to continue to do the work,” Higgins said Wednesday.

The Kamiah School Board placed a $500,000 levy on Tuesday’s ballot — the same amount as its current levy on the books, which passed in 2018 after several failed attempts.

On Tuesday, 449 voters — 54 percent — opposed the measure, while 384 voters — 46 percent — cast ballots in favor of it.

With only 833 votes in all, Higgins said he expected a higher voter turnout. During the March 2018 levy election, there were 1,087 votes cast, with 626 votes, or about 58 percent, in favor.

Following the levy’s recent defeat, Kamiah will have to implement cost-saving measures in a district that already has a limited amount of extracurricular programs and electives.

“The plan is pretty well set,” Higgins said. “It’s been identified and the board approved the plan prior to the election.”

Although Higgins said he can’t speak on behalf of the school board, he said all indications point to the closure of the district’s middle school — the newest building within the district — for a savings of about $106,000. Kindergarten through sixth grade will be housed in the elementary school, while seventh through 12th grades will attend the high school.

There also is likely to be a reduction to the district’s all-day kindergarten, to a half-day program.

The move forces the district to take a step backward as other area schools work to create a configuration that Kamiah currently has in place. For example, the Lewiston School District recently voted to switch to a middle school model, and this year the district launched all-day kindergarten.

“From an educational standpoint, we are really disappointed,” Higgins said. “It’s going to have a negative effect on our academic programs. … I felt after last year we were on the right direction, where in the near future we could look at adding a music program back in and expand (career and technical education) programs back in, but now there is no flex.”

The district also will look at extracurricular activities and coaching staffs to see if any reductions can be made.

Higgins said the district is not discussing layoffs at this point because Kamiah does not pay for any teacher salaries out of its general fund above what the state of Idaho provides for staffing.

The likelihood of another levy anytime soon doesn’t seem to be an option, although Higgins said that decision ultimately is up to the school board.

“My gut feeling and my belief is the voters have made their decision, and I think if we follow the democratic process, we need to adhere to that,” Higgins said. “I don’t think it’s fair to throw another levy at (the community). My personal belief is the vote has been made, the decision has been given and we need to make adjustments based on that.”

As the board plans for the 2019-20 school year, members will strive to provide students with the best educational opportunities possible despite the lack of resources, Higgins said. The school board will begin the discussions Monday during its next meeting.

“We are really going to have to analyze where we can continue to save money without tearing down a program that other schools offer,” Higgins said. “Heck, all the schools offer so much more than we do already.”

Higgins isn’t sure what caused voters to oppose the levy this time around. He said the district has been transparent and has used the money for exactly what it outlined during the last election.

“It’s very obvious what the community was asking of the district. They said, ‘if you ask us for money, make sure you don’t have any money and make sure we know what you are doing with the money,’ ” Higgins said. “We made decisions like maintenance and operations. All those decisions are made on how to become more efficient so we can save money in the long run, but obviously the majority of voters had a different opinion as far as whether or not they wanted to provide that support.”

The district has depleted its reserves, leaving no other option than reductions, Higgins said.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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