Sullivan: Legislature does schools, taxpayers no favors
September 20, 2017
If any of you followed the state legislature this past Spring you would have read about proposals to cut state spending and funding for our schools.
They did restore millions of dollars in funding for Montana schools that were originally on the chopping block but they did so by depleting a different pool of school payments. School Block Grant funding and Natural Resource payments have been diminished and the burden has been pushed to local taxpayers to make up the difference, and neither the taxpayer or our local school districts have any say.
The new state funding formula decreases money available from the state and automatically raises non-voted local school taxes to make up the difference. It makes little or no sense to us as a school district and to our local taxpayers. We did not ask the voters to pass an increased levy this year, our general fund budgets are down approximately $60,000 from last year, and our overall budgets are down, we are operating on less money to educate our students but our local taxes went up.
A few other factors play in to the local tax funding mechanism also, the taxable valuation for our local districts have changed over the last few years; the high school taxable valuation for 2017-18 is $9,915,175. This is down from over $11,567,249 in 2014-15. What does this mean? It means that if our property value is lower it takes more tax dollars to fund your government entities, thus, less money in the pot overall. What can we attribute this to? That question is a good one; we know Golden Sunlight Mine is a major tax contributor to this county and perhaps the value of that property is down, also, other county properties could be down also which in turn changes the taxable valuation. This is just one area that changes the net tax burden on all of our taxpayers; the main issue this year is still the shift by the legislature to our local taxpayers and there was never much discussion on this during the session. It’s frustrating as a local school district; we have no control over this and we want to continue to provide a quality education that our students deserve. Our local school board and administration have adopted budgets for the upcoming school year and some cuts to departments have been made and the board has also considered pulling funds from local Metal Mine Funds and other funds to offset these cuts. When your tax bill comes in the mail, please understand that it was not the school district that raised your local taxes; our budgets are less than last year.
On a more positive note, Whitehall Schools are off to a great start! Our enrollment is up about 25 students which will help us with funding down the road and we have 13 new staff members around the school. Over the last three years the school board has funded a number of major upgrades for our students and community. A huge investment was made for new curriculums for our students in reading, math, and language arts; a new roof has been placed on the middle school building; new heaters have been upgraded in the high school building; and recently new bleachers have been installed on our football field. Other upgrades include changes to our security systems, phone systems, wireless systems, classroom upgrades, a new travel bus is coming for our students, and there have been some upgrades to the appearance of our campus. The majority of this funding came from Metal Mines funds and did not impact the local taxpayer.
Our students are our number one priority and our number one asset; we have a school system that our community can be proud of!
We are looking forward to a great 2017-18 school year; the community is always welcome, come to a sporting event or just come check us out, our doors are open. Go Trojans!!