[Vision2020] yes, Weitz is suing Moscow School District

Bill London london at moscow.com
Fri May 4 11:33:56 PDT 2007

NEWS UPDATE: Lawsuit challenges Moscow School District's supplemental levy
Moscow dentist files suit alleging school district violated Idaho law 

By Kate Baldwin, Daily News staff writer

Friday, May 4, 2007 - Page Updated at 09:03:13 AM

A former Moscow School Board member filed a lawsuit against the Moscow School District on Thursday alleging that its recently approved $1.97 million supplemental levy increase is invalid.

The lawsuit also challenges the legality of the indefinite term levy that was set in 1992 and all of its subsequent increases.

Dr. Gerald Weitz, a Viola resident and a Moscow dentist, filed the lawsuit in Latah County District Court.

According to court records, Weitz is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the collection of any taxes based upon what he alleges to be the unlawful and invalid 1992 election and each increase since.

The supplemental maintenance and operations levy provides funding for the district above and beyond what is allotted through state funding. This allows the district to maintain smaller class sizes, attract and retain more qualified teachers, and diversify its curricular and extracurricular programming.

The indefinite supplemental levy was established in 1992 at $3.79 million, with 64.4 percent voter approval. An election must take place for voters to approve any subsequent increases.

In 1995, the district held an election seeking a $750,000 increase. It passed with 54.5 percent voter approval. The district tried for a $1.96 million increase in 2001, but the levy failed. The district lowered the requested increase to $1.1 million in 2002, and voters passed the increase with 63 percent approval.

The last increase came in March, when voters approved a $1.97 million increase with 56.7 percent of voter approval. The total levy now stands at $7.6 million annually.

Weitz's lawsuit makes five claims. It alleges that:

The 2007 supplemental levy increase election is invalid for failing to comply with statutory requirements because it asks the voters if they approve an increase of $1.97 million but it doesn't state in the ballot question that the total amount certified will be $7.6 million;

Each previous supplemental levy increase election also is invalid because there is no law or mechanism explaining how to increase an existing indefinite term supplemental levy;

Each previous supplemental levy increase election is invalid because they also failed to comply with statutory requirements;

The 1992 election was invalid because it failed to comply with statutory requirements; and

Because these actions purportedly violate Idaho law, Weitz is entitled to a permanent injunction prohibiting the collections of any taxes based thereon.

The lawsuit counters a history that Weitz had built in support of the district.

For a number of years, he offered an annual lease of $1 for a building that is used by the district's alternative high school, known as Paradise Creek Regional High School. Weitz also served on the school board as the Zone 1 Trustee from June 1997 until June 2000. During that time, he won a re-election and voted on multiple budget measures for the district that were based on funds from the levies he's now challenging.

Weitz did not return calls seeking comment. He is being represented by Moscow attorney Brian D. Thie, as well as Richard A. Hearn and Scott J. Smith of the Pocatello, Idaho, firm Racine, Olson, Nye, Budge, and Bailey.

Board members and administrators of the Moscow School District met Monday for an executive session, where they discussed pending litigation with their attorney, Amy White of Boise-based Anderson, Julian and Hull, LLP.

Superintendent Candis Donicht reviewed a copy of the lawsuit Thursday afternoon. She said the district runs its ballot resolutions and the language through its attorney as part of its election procedures.

"We did have legal review this time as well," she said. "We have been consistent in how we presented our increases, never with any intent of being deceptive."

Although she wasn't with the district in 2002, Donicht said she knew it held "an extensive campaign with comprehensive media coverage."

"For this recent election, the district put forth the same level of energy to get accurate and correct information to the voters," she said. "I believe they knew what they were voting for, and the records show the majority supported both efforts as well as the one back in 1995."

The levy represents $7.6 million of the district's $19 million budget planned for the coming year. The potential loss of revenue could have a serious impact on the number of employees the district can afford.

While the board approved contracts for its renewable-contract teachers in April, those who fall into the nonrenewable contract category are at risk. These categories include teachers who have been with the district from one to three years.

Donicht said these teachers are aware of the situation.

"This news will be devastating to our staff, and we will do all we can to determine how many contracts we can maintain," she said. "Our strength as a school system is in our people."

Kate Baldwin can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at kbaldwin at dnews.com.
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