May 3, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Please join me in voting for the school levies on May 8.
Providing quality education for our young people is the most important government function in a civil, democratic society. Therefore, I'm puzzled as ro why public education is the only entity that is required to seek approval to maintain funding at the same level as previous years' budgets. While our state constitution guarantees a "free" quality education for all, the state's portion of the funding is inadequate to cover even the basics. It's confusing to many of us.
Jack and I raised five children in Montana who received a quality education superior to that of the majority of states. We are grateful to all of the people who made it possible. Now that our children are grown, we are committed to do the same for children attending schools here today.
We appreciate the extra effort community members made in scrutinizing the budget. It's been a difficult year for many and it's good to know we're being offered a responsible financial package for our children's education.
This year we have only one chance to ensure our schools receive adequate funding.
Support for public education is the number one indicator of the health of a community. As we look toward the future, we owe it to ourselves and to our children to vote YES for education.
Seeley Lake, Montana
The Legislature has passed two major bills that have direct impact to school districts' general funds. Those bills are Senate Bill 94 and House Bill 121.
SB94 increases the reimbursement level for special education allowable costs that are eligible for reimbursement. HB121 increased the state level of funding for year one by 1.88%. This increase is applied to the formulas that drive school funding. Those formulas are the base entitlement and the ANB (Average Number Belonging) entitlement. The 1.88% increase then carries into the second year of the biennium (2002-03) and districts will receive another 1.88% increase. This spread of money is a better spread of money for school districts than was the 0% and 3% as proposed by the Governor because it puts money into the schedules in the first year and carries over for additional money in the second year. However, it is short of the request carried forward by the educational community (4% and 7%) to the legislature.
The general fund budget for MCPS high school districts, including Seeley-Swan, will grow based on the changes provided by these two bills. The secondary general fund will grow by approximately $635,574. (This amount may fluctuate a little, dependent upon the state's distribution of special education funds.) Because the general funds are allowed to grow, it means that the cap for our budgets is also allowed to grow. The District's ability to access the major portion of new money is resultant upon action taken by the voters during the May 8, 2001 mill levy election. Secondary voters will be asked to take action on a high school mill levy of $523,661 for an annual tax impact of approximately $14.52 per year.
Many people have asked why there is a mill levy election when the legislature just allocated 1.88% new money. The reason there is a mill levy election is because the budget caps grow and the last portion of money for funding MCPS comes from voter approved budget authority and local property taxes.
Currently, the District is working with building principals and teachers to prepare for two staffing scenarios, one that is funded (passage of levy) and one that is un-funded (failure of levy). This is true for both elementary and secondary districts.
At the high school level, the funded scenario includes add-backs of 19 teachers with an addition of two teachers for the Alternative Education Program and Behavioral specialist support to serve students who are diagnosed as having Autism or Asperger's Syndrome. The un-funded scenario for the secondary schools includes an add-back of 12 teachers.
People are asking what the difference is between the funded and the un-funded scenarios financially. The money for the funded scenario is directly tied to passage of the levy. If the levy does not pass, the District will still receive some additional support from the state due to the 1.88% increase and special education reimbursements. If you have questions about any of this information and how it impacts your particular school, please contact your building principal or contact Mary Vagner at 728-2400, ext. 1022.
Vote for "Our Kids" Tuesday
Despite unexpected last minute funds from the Montana Legislature, Seeley Lake Elementary is going to have raise additional monies through a bond issue to operate, not at the same level as this year, but minus the services of an excellent part time principal, Mr. Tom Larson,and a full time teacher, yet to be announced.
This administrator and faculty will be sorely missed and the school is still short of over $63,000 due largely to the loss of 19 students next year. Our school board has downsized in this manner, I believe, given that1) a much larger levy would have been required to maintain services at par and 2)by law they can only float a bond issue once, so they didn't think it wise to ask us for a large amount without the rejoinder of being able later to ask for less.
So the result is a compromise that no one who genuinely cares about the quality of education that our own schools provide can be entirely happy about. But, compromise or not, it is my hope that we citizens of Seeley will join together and prove to our board, overwhelmingly, our support for our young people and our school.
Given the possibility of continued downsizing and energy costs that will be increasing who knows how much?!, our school board, administrators, teachers, and staff need to know this community is behind them for the tough times ahead.
Like many in the Seeley area,I am a retiree living on a fixed income. I detest raises in my property tax.They're already too high for the size of house Peggy and I have way out here in the country.Further I feel Montana's taxation system is unbalanced and decidedly unfair to property owners. While many recognize this built in unfairness, no one has been able to come up with a solution that addresses the problem.
So the question is, what happens to the education of our children in the mean time? What is being asked in this bond will amount to $25 additional property tax on a $100,000 home.
There is a wonderful moment in the Jim Henson movie, Labyrinth.The female heroine is whining about being lost in the Labyrinth as "Not being fair."Her puppet sidekick says, "Well, life isn't fair.Let's get on with it!"Suddenly she smiles broadly and relieved of all excuses for whining, starts coming up with ingenuous ways of actually getting out of the maze.
I'm sure you've noticed that I've used the phrase "our kids."That's because I firmly believe that Seeley is our community, our school, and the kids going to school here are Our Kids.
It may not be fair that those of us who are retirees, for example, when assured by our lawmakers that there will be no new taxes end up having our property tax increased; but when lawmakers won't raise the money for essential purposes, like running schools, the money has to come from somewhere or our school's services begin degrading at an alarmingrate.
So it's not fair!, but if we don't help, who will? They're Our Kids and this time We're elected and Our Kids are worth it, our school is worth it, and our community is worth it!(And don't let those short sighted lawmakers off the hook the next time They want to be elected! Their whining about "not being able to find the money" was irresponsibly immature.)
Neighbors won't you join with me on May 8th and make sure that this bond issue passes in a big way?
Rolland R. Meinholtz
Double Arrow Ranch
Seeley Lake, MT
I have had my eyes opened recently regarding the amount of grant money that helps supplement out elementary school children. Did you know that the Clairborne Ortenberg Foundation grant funds $45,000 per year? This grant funds our preschool program. The Clairborne Ortenberg grant helped our Multi Age program start up and continued helping for four years. This grant provides three reference material carts, Accelerated reading books for our library, Accelerated math materials, reference materials for looping classrooms, field trips, 5th grade music books, funding for the Eighth grade play, Community Christmas projects, extended year programs, and professional development for staff.
In addition to this grant, we received a $70,000 Computer grant over the last two years, which provided training, computers and hardware. We received a $5000 grant and ten surplus computers from the USFS. Blackfoot telephone Company gave a $4000 Technology grant. We received approximately $13,000 in volunteer labor and wiring for the computer lab and phone system thanks to Randy Teague, Dave Spence and all the staff who pulled wire. We received an E Rate Federal grant for wire, server and phone system. The Blackfoot Challenge provides training for six teachers, field trips, support materials and travel money. The Montana Community Foundation provided $2200 for musical instruments and music books. Seeley Lake Fireworks provided $2000 for the Athletic Program. Our teachers do fundraising to supplement field trips.
Grants are written and rewritten on volunteer time. It is a lengthy process with no guarantee that they will be accepted. A grant may be given one year, but not accepted the next year. On May 8th we will be asked to vote on a mill levy to fund our school's basic academic needs for the upcoming year. While these grants help supplement and reinforce our children's education, they cannot replace the funding for basic education. Did you know that the average textbook costs between $35 - 45 and the workbook are an additional $12 - 20?
Please support the mill levy - we only have one chance to educate our children.
Patti Bartlett Dunlap,
Seeley Lake, Montana