(L to R) Big Sky School District Trustee Whitney Littman, District Business Manager Corky Miller and Superintendent Dustin Shipman analyze budget numbers and levy language. Their district will request for a $40,000 general fund levy on the ballot this May.

Big Sky School District to request $40,000 levy

Funds would support payroll increases

The Big Sky School District will request a one year, $40,000 levy to support its general fund on the upcoming May 8 mail-in election. The BSSD Board of Directors approved the district’s levy proposal at its March 20 meeting. 

Corky Miller, business manager for BSSD explained the general fund is the bucket of money the district uses for things like paying teacher salaries and benefits, keeping the lights on, heating the buildings, insurance, special education and ongoing maintenance of the school and curriculum.

If approved, the money will mainly go toward teachers’ salaries. 

“There’s no secret about that,” said BSSD Board of Directors Trustee Whitney Littman. “It’s an interesting process in learning from the state how much funding we will get, while at the same time negotiating what we can afford in the teacher salaries.”

That general fund dollar amount, which the school is allowed to spend, is set by the state, so the district does not have the ability to increase the district’s revenue in any way other than asking for funding from taxpayers via a vote. The state also puts a cap on the amount a school can ask for from its residents. 

The amount of money a school receives annually from the state is not related to a community’s income, but rather it depends on the number of students in attendance. At BSSD that number is 382. 

BSSD saw a hike in enrollment in the fiscal years of 2013 and 2014, up 46, and again between 2014 and 2015 when enrollment went up 45 more. Those numbers coincided with the opening of the elementary school. Since then, the numbers have leveled off, rising gradually from year to year. 

The Montana Office of Public Instruction recently released its preliminary FY19 budget data. Miller explained the numbers, saying if the levy does not pass, BSSD’s general fund budget next year is limited to $3,043,394. If the levy passes, the FY19 budget of $3,083,493 would provide for an additional $63,000 over the current fiscal year’s operating funds.

Should the 1.44 mill levy pass, a home valued at $200,000 would see taxes rise by approximately $3.89 for one year.

Miller detailed why the levy funding will be important to the school. 

“The district is required to provide a ‘zero budget’ to the state. There isn’t any fluff, savings, things we can roll into the next year,” he said. “So we budget based on our expenditures, staffing needs and pay accordingly. At the current funding from the state, we can’t provide teachers what they deserve. So in order to provide an increase in salary we need voter approval.”

Littman agreed: “It’s challenging to balance being given numbers from the state and also being asked to provide for growing careers. That’s what we’re trying to manage now. We don’t know what the state is doing, and with legislative cycles every two years, it’s hard to have a lot of foresight into what it’s going to look like.” 

Miller noted last year BSSD wasn’t hit as hard as some with state funding cuts since its enrollment has been steady, but not all districts were as lucky. 

“The reductions from the state are permanent. They’re not going to start giving more money all of a sudden, and when the state is giving us 1 percent more, or a little under or over that, it’s hard for us to justify giving 1 percent salary increases. We need to provide more for our teachers and staff, but we have to do that within the state budget, and it’s challenging.”

Voters approved a $100,000 general fund levy request for the BSSD last year. That was the first time in four years the district asked for funds of that kind. Prior to that the district collected a $830,000 building reserve levy to complete the new elementary school building.

 

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