by Beth Hutchinson
for the Pathfinder
March 19, 1998
Voters in School District #34 will be asked to approve an elementary mill levy request of $33,841 in the April 7th election. If this figure is approved, the 1998-1999 school budget ($920,141) will be $2,559.84 greater than the l997-l998 budget ($917,581.16).
Two major factors significantly impacted these figures. One was an anticipated reduction in state funding. Superintendent John Hebnes reported that according to the February average daily attendance (ADA) figures Seeley Lake Elementary has lost 9 students. Since the ADA determines the amount of money contributed by the state towards the district budget and since it was not possible to reduce the number of classroom units needed, the levy request represents what is needed to maintain the status quo in services for next year.
The second factor impacting the budget was the decision to utilize the salary held in reserve from Jack Coughlin's resignation last August and to purchase supplies and materials for the l998-99 school year with the $25,000 surplus from the l997-98 budget.
The board initially explored the idea of finding a way to return that $25,000 to the taxpayers, however, to do so would result in only 40% of the total being credited to tax bills. Given that a real loss, representing 60% of what they had already paid, was result for local taxpayers and that an additional $25,000 would have had to be tacked onto the mill levy, the board voted unanimously to spend the reserve to defray next year's costs this year.
Due to large class sizes in the junior high, the budget includes provisions for hiring an additional teacher at that level. (This addition does not show up as an increase in the budget because last year's reserve 2nd grade salary was reassigned to the junior high level for the 1998-99 school year.)
Information regarding the budget and mill levy decisions was made available to townspeople attending the Open House/Chili Feed on Tuesday the 17th. A complete review of the issues and budget making process will be made at a public meeting scheduled for April 2nd. The board also plans to include special releases in the Pathfinder to help the public understand the issues.
In addition to school personnel and board members Loren Rose and Mark Williams, townspeople Tim Clark, Gary Miller, Doug Mood and Stan Nicholson participated on the finance committee that constructed the budget.
Reflecting on the difficult task faced by the financial committee, Superintendent Hebnes said, "There needs to be a better funding approach (at the state level). The 'fixes' as we have done them are not 'the solution'".
The canine team returned to the elementary school on March 5th to conduct its first formal search. Hebnes reported that no durgs or other contraband were found, although there were 20 alerts made as the teams worked the entire building. "We sent a generic, peaceful letter home to the families ... and visited with one parent of a very little kid who thought maybe shell loading caused the alert," said Hebnes.
One of the more interesting alerts occurred in in empty classroom where the dog's nose was sensitive enough to find an old, plastic juice bottle with a residue of fermenting juice.
Hebnes indicated that the students were not upset by the activity. He felt that everyone handled it well and concluded, "I feel good that we did not find anything."
On other matters, Hebnes reported that the elementary school has the potential to pick up quite a few Sunset School students. Four, all children of school board members, began attending Seeley Lake Elementary recently, and there has been talk of closing Sunset and subdividing the district in the future.
Hebnes indicated that the families are making their own transportation arrangements. The board voted unanimously to accept these out of district students at no charge for the remainder of the year. "We may charge out of district tuition if they want to attend next year," said Hebnes.
Addressing the need for custodial and maintenance personnel, Hebnes reported that he had advertised in the Pathfinder and the Missoulian and that those ads had resulted in one bid for contracting the job as well as in some applications from parties interested in becoming school employees. There is a March 24th closing date for submitting bids or applications.
Having interviewed several grant-writers during a special meeting on February 24th and having checked references, the board voted unanimously to ask George Humphries to become its grant-writeer. Humphries has done much work for the Double Arrow.
The board felt it could offer him $1,000 to $1,500 out of the current budget, but that any other financing for his services would have to come out of his successfully obtaining grants.
In conjunction with discussion on the most recently updated punch list for the building project, board chair Bart Peterson indicated that he had written another pointedly worded letter to the construction company. The board offered its consensus that doing so was in line.
Some level testing scores developed as a part of the "testing of the questions" stage of the Missoula Curriculum Consortium project were shared. Consideration of substitute useage protocol and the board mission and goals was rescheduled for the next meeting.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be on April 14th at 6:pm. The agenda items will include canvassing the mill levy ballot, a technology grant, custodial/maintenance possibilities, board mission and goals, a timeline for evaluating the administrative structure and a revised draft of the scoring paper for substitute useage.