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Written by Ben Jorgensen, The Clearwater Progress   

What direction do you want to go, Kamiah?

     Schools are the heart of small communities. They act as a barometer of a community's health. Strong communities make strong schools and strong schools help strengthen their community. The opposite also proves true.

     A school will only be as strong as the community support behind it.

     Kamiah, by way of majority vote, has elected to develop a weak school. Less than half the community, judging by previous elections, has great pride in their school and will do whatever it takes to support it. The other side seemingly takes equally great pride in refusing to support the school.

     The opposition to levies here is not simply a voice against taxation. For a variety of reasons, there has become a deep-seeded distrust of the school system. The product of rumor, innuendo, paranoia, and district foibles, the dissent has grown more vocal and angry. There is an obvious divide in the community. The school is the flag attached to the rope in a tug of war contest.

     It shouldn't be this way.

     Virtually every school district in this region—except Kamiah—has approved a levy in the past year. See the list at the end of this column.

     Sadly we don't have any hard numbers that would document the effect Kamiah's schools have on the community. It would make for a fabulous senior project.

     We do know that the school is our community's largest employer. We do know that the jobs created at the school are good paying positions relative to the standard of living here.

     The people who work for the school district live here, meaning they rent or own property. They pay property taxes.

     Those taxes benefit everyone. They are used for roads, ambulances, firefighting, the library, and law enforcement.

     These people buy gas for their vehicles and food at the grocery store. They patronize local restaurants and hire contractors to do home remodels or repair frozen plumbing. They buy gifts and plan parties and order embroidered jackets.

     High school students likewise buy breakfast and lunches here in town. They buy fuel too so they can cruise around and irritate their parents and busybodies.

     Kamiah's schools have traditionally offered the community a range of activities, such as sporting events, plays, art and music shows. Some of those activities have since gone away for lack of support.

     Some of these activities have produced a huge financial boost for many businesses. Track meets in particular, some lasting two days, give our local eateries and grocery store and gas stations a much needed influx of business.

     The same could be said for football and basketball games too. Local business is incredibly enriched by the presence of a school, especially a healthy school.

     Graduates of 10, 20 or 30 years ago say Kamiah's schools look nothing like the place they once attended. It's not just reduced electives, it's a change in culture. Clearly a shift in values has occurred.

     Some of these grads have gone on to become doctors, dentists, teachers, lawyers, singers, and more. They question what has happened here.

     If something is of great enough value you find a way to keep, buy, obtain, or support it. If it means to sacrifice, save, or borrow, people will do whatever it takes to protect what they feel is valuable. It could be a marriage, a job, a teddy bear, an education, a swimming pool, or even a community.

     I can't help but think that the levy vote is really more of a vote of our community.

     Until the community is fully convinced that a Kamiah education is of great worth, I suspect levies will continue to face a tough sell in this town.

     Judging by patrons' paltry attendance at school board meetings and dwindling support at extracurricular events, most of the town has elected for apathy, not engagement. For this collective, levies feel more like a sharp stick in the eye. They see it is a costly expense rather than a beneficial investment.

     Priorities and values have drifted. The sense of what  community means is being redefined. Times indeed have changed.

     Schools no longer receive the level of funding that once came from timber. Furthermore, the state is putting the onus on communities to make up for what it refuses to fund.

     When a community no longer sees the value of education or its school as critical to the community, it is taking the path of diminishing returns.

     Kamiah's school system needs help and the solution is not just financial. It won't ever get fixed unless a lot of people are willing to care.

     This vote, like so many before it, is really a question of whether or not this community cares.

2013 school levies

Approved March 13, 2013

Coeur d'Alene: two years, $27 million. Approved, 66 percent.

Lake Pend Oreille: two years, $15.7 million. Approved, 57 percent.

Post Falls: two years, $8.5 million. Approved, 68 percent.

Boundary County: two years, $2.8 million. Approved, 56 percent.

Kootenai Joint School District: two years, $2.4 million. Approved, 56 percent.

Potlatch: one year, $1.5 million. Approved, 50.2 percent.

Genesee: one year, $935,000. Approved, 68 percent.

Kendrick: one year, $825,000. Approved, 67 percent.

Highland: one year, $499,000. Approved, 54 percent.

Approved May 2013

Mountain View (Grangeville) - A one-year, $2.66 million levy passed with 55 percent approval.

Nezperce: A one-year, $445,000 levy passed with 69 percent support.

Orofino: A one-year, $2.285 million supplemental levy passed with 64 percent support.

Salmon River: A $545,000 levy sailed to passage with 76 percent support.

Troy: A one-year, $907,000 levy passed with 63 percent support.

Cottonwood: Voters OK'd a one-year, $387,000 supplemental levy, with 69 percent support.

Moscow - A $10.8 million building bond passed with 70 percent support.


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