The Columbia Falls School District 6 board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of holding a high school mill levy this spring, but they weren’t ready to put a number to the levy request.
The consensus of the board at their March 10 meeting, as put by trustee Scott Emmerich, was that while budget problems have forced the school district into “survival mode,” voters needed something tangible to vote for or else the levy request could be turned down.
The Columbia Falls High School district lost $422,613 over the past four years, or 7.73 percent of its budget, as enrollment fell about 12 percent, school superintendent Michael Nicosia said.
During the same time period, the combined Flathead-Glacier High School district gained about $2.2 million while losing a little more than 1 percent of its enrollment, he said.
A key factor favoring the Kalispell schools was the education funding bill passed by the Montana Legislature last year, which primarily benefited Class AA schools and schools in oil-rich counties, Nicosia said.
School District 6 lacks the levy authority for the elementary district, but with $161,459 in projected cost increases for supplies, teachers, staff and a new superintendent, Nicosia presented information on the benefits of a high school levy for $185,000. Without a voted levy, high school funding would see only a 0.56 percent increase, Nicosia said.
Additional funding from a levy could be used to support more AP level classes as well as text books, online content and computer lab upgrades for students taking dual-credit classes at Flathead Valley Community College. Additional funding could also be used to support technical writing, math and industrial arts classes in the Triad program, which will help students transition into good-paying jobs in the building trades and manufacturing.
“If we are going to improve our curriculum and keep up with the demands of our changing times, given the current funding system, it will unfortunately fall on the shoulders of our local taxpayers,” Nicosia said.
The trustees criticized last year’s school-funding bill, carried by Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, but they also acknowledged that school funding formulas are not simple and often leave the public bewildered.
“The public thinks, if there’s less students, then the school district shouldn’t need more money,” trustee Larry Wilson said. “But costs have gone up — for supplies and other things.”
“It affects school activities, too,” trustee Dean Chisholm added.
“Activity costs go up every year — for gas, motels, everything,” high school activities director Troy Bowman said.
“We’ve gotten to a tipping point,” board chairwoman Jill Rocksund said.
“Do we have a schedule for replacing text books — no,” Wilson said, making a motion to approve a resolution calling for a levy election, but without specific numbers.
“We will need to work on a strategy to get this passed,” Nicosia said after the board approved the resolution.
“I believe the public will support this if they just know what it’s for,” Emmerich said.
The success of School District 6 levies has been mixed. Last year’s levy election was held in June as the board waited to see what the legislature would do.
• June 4, 2013 — elementary levy, 89,565, failed; high school levy, 96,454, failed
• May 8, 2012 — elementary levy, $91,544, passed; high school levy, $81,985, passed
• May 6, 2008 — elementary levy, $69,607, passed; high school levy, $142,000, failed.
• May 8, 2007 — elementary levy, $241,395, passed.
• May 2, 2006 — elementary levy, $297,444, passed; high school levy, $89,362, passed.