Ballot for Big Sky

Two mill levy requests and an introduction to the candidates for school board
It’s important to be able to provide housing for our educators since it is difficult to find affordable housing,” longtime Big Sky Resident Marjorie Knaub said, noting why the partnership with Habitat for Humanity is worthwhile.

On Tuesday, April 30, a group of teachers piled into the “Big Blue Bus” with Jeremy Harder at the wheel in a journey to Town Center. They were wielding American Flags and pins, asserting, “It’s all about the vote” or the more simple request, “Vote.” They went en masse to appeal to Big Sky voters. 

The official school election ballot of Gallatin County contains two mill levy requests, which many teachers find pivotal to their lives. The first – the general fund levy – is intended to be permanent and allows teachers raises. If passed, home taxes will be raised by $1.88 per $100,000 in market value. 

“If the general fund levy passes, it provides the district increased budget authority. The specific increase will pertain to raises in teacher salaries,” Big Sky School District Business Manager Corky Miller explained. 

The second mill levy request would support a building support levy of $600,000 to sunset in five years. If passed, it will increase taxes on homes by $5.64 per $100,000 in value until the sunset. This levy would pave the way for two tri-plexes to be constructed for teacher housing. 

“There will be a committee formed if we pass the levy that will immediately get together to figure out the logistics: Will it be a lottery system? There are other examples around the state. We’re not going to make it up ourselves, we’re going to use information from other organizations. There is a lot of information and we will seek guidance. Equitability is very important,” incumbent candidate, Whitney Littman, said.

Ballots are out, sitting on kitchen tables or on the passenger seats of cars. While some have been mailed, there are still some that remain blank. Teachers hope to catch some final votes to swing the outcome to their favor. 

Third-grade teacher Whitney McKenzie has been known to work two jobs in addition to working fulltime as a teacher. 

“I love to live and play here, so I’ve got to make it work,” she said and explained she’s trying to get out of debt as well as afford her housing. She cleans the apartment building where she lives for discounted rent, cleans private homes and works tutoring and coaching. 

“I also watch dogs, walk dogs and babysit. I house sit when locals are out of town,” she said. Free time is in limited supply in her life, she’s hoping these mill levies pass so she can eventually slow down a bit and more fully embrace the fun side of Big Sky. 

Longtime Big Sky resident Marjorie Knaub said that she is voting for the mill levies because, “It’s important to be able to provide housing for our educators since it is difficult to find affordable housing,” noting the partnership with Habitat for Humanity makes it a worthwhile project. 

Several Big Sky School District Board of Trustee positions are also on the ballot. 

Incumbent Loren Bough is running unopposed for the available two-year term. “His current term as board chair is up and he is running for a new spot. After the election is complete, the board will reorganize with the new members and at that point, the board chair and vice chair are nominated and elected,” BSSD district business manager Corky Miller said. 

TWO YEAR TERM: 

Loren Bough 

What should the voters of Big Sky know about you? 

Bough explained that he and his family have been full time residents for 16 years. His children include one LPHS graduate, one senior and one eighth grader. All three children spent their entire careers in the Big Sky School District. He has worked on improving public education in Big Sky for the past 15 years and led the successful effort to create Lone Peak High School. 

He is currently president of Friends of Big Sky Education, president of Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, Vice Chair of Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, Chairman of PERC – a Bozeman-based environmental research center, and is active in local philanthropy. 

What is the greatest challenge to the district? 

“Affordable teacher housing is our biggest challenge. The partnership with Habitat for Humanity is an important initiative to help us keep our teachers in the community and in the classroom. Our second challenge is growth— we are estimating a possible 20 percent growth in the high school next year— the fastest growing district in the state.” 

THREE YEAR TERM: 

Three candidates vie for two available three-year terms. Lander Bachert is running against incumbents Scott Hammond and Whitney Littman. 

Lander Bachert 

What should the voters of Big Sky know about you? 

“I was a teacher for a decade, both in Big Sky, other parts of Montana and Michigan. I love education and the kids in Big Sky are really unique, special people and I have strong relationships with the teachers. I want to stay connected with the community. With my role as CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, it’s important for me to know what’s happening in the communities we serve. I want to be involved.” 

What is the greatest challenge to the district? 

“Teacher retention– it’s just a hard place to live without housing. Especially with 

the financial restraints of education. Creating a positive workplace and community atmosphere that encourages our best and brightest to stay would be essential. I just want to keep hold of the good teachers who respect and do so much for the kids in the community.” 

Scott Hammond 

What should the voters of Big Sky know about you? 

“I grew-up with both parents as school teachers and I went to a very reputable public school system and believe in public education. I was asked to fill a mid-term opening earlier this year. This is my first time running.” 

What is the greatest challenge to the district? 

“Teacher retention, affordable housing for teachers and keeping education at the forefront in a vacation and recreationally driven area. Being in the property management and rental business for 25 years, I can speak with some authority with regards to rents, the limited supply of housing and the high cost of living. Regardless of how expensive it is to live in Big Sky, our teachers make state mandated wages. That’s why both levies are so important to pass.” 

Whitney Littman 

What should the voters of Big Sky know about you? 

“I have two young boys, one in elementary and one in middle school. I chair the wellness committee: I care about food, nutrition, and kids and how kids are fueled properly. I’m on the budget committee and the negotiations committee and we are always thinking about how we can use the limited state dollars most effectively. I’ve worked on the strategic planning committee to help achieve academic rigor and to achieve opportunities for all students and their interests. The most important thing is that I’m passionate about education for all.” 

What is the greatest challenge to the district? 

“I think it’s important to design a public school system to reach all kids coming from all areas. Having a full spectrum of ways we can accommodate the needs of children is really important. That is a challenge for all school districts. With that said, I think we have an incredible group of administrators and teachers we are working with daily to accomplish that mission. It’s an honor to serve these students and this community. If I get the chance to do it again, I’ll be thrilled.” 

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