Levy failure puts school district in budget bind

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Miles City Unified Board of Trustees the failure of the elementary school district’s proposed operational levy was discussed.

The election had a low turnout of 18 percent with 486 voting for the levy and 549 voting against.

“We lost actually a pretty close election by 60 votes,” said Campbell. “So what that means for us basically in the short term is that we’re $60,000 short of this year’s budget next year.” 

According to Campbell, that $60,000 decrease doesn’t include steps and lanes. Steps and lanes are how the teachers are paid based on experience and level of education. Once the district adds that in they’ll be down another $60,000, Campbell said. 

That would put the elementary district down around $120,000 for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

According to Campbell, they’re going from a budget of around $7.3 million in the elementary district to a budget of $7 million.

He said 90 percent of the general fund budget is salaries while the remaining 10 percent is for maintaining buildings. 

The projected budget shortfall stems from a decrease in enrollment in the elementary district, and a corresponding reduction in state funding.

Currently, the elementary district is down 15 students.

In an interview this past Friday Campbell said if the decrease in enrollment in the elementary district continues it will eventually begin to hurt the high school district.

The seventh-grade class is small so once they enter the high school that district will face the same issues that the elementary district is facing now. 

“It’s time to tighten our belts a little bit and start planning for the future,” said Campbell. “Figure out how we’re going to make due with less.”

According to Campbell, he hasn’t seen a levy fail in the five years he’s been superintendent.

“We have a very supportive community for education,” said Campbell. “I just think that some were just against raising taxes.”

While Campbell can’t be sure why the voter turnout was so low he believes several factors were in play. 

According to Campbell, there seemed to be confusion on where to vote, and other people were confusing the operational levy with the permissive levies. 

An operational tax levy is a voted-on levy that can be used for budgeted funds like salaries, supplies and maintenance. Permissive levies provide revenues for tuition, building reserves, adult education, transportation and bus depreciation. They can be enacted by the school board without voter approval. 

Due to state Senate Bill 307 the district was required to publish in the paper whether or not they were going to run permissive levies. This requirement had a timeline of around the same time as the election. 

According to Campbell, if anyone was to ask the legislators they would say they did some good for schools, one of those being SB 307.

SB 307 allows districts to run permissive levies to make up money for their general funds but this would put more pressure on local taxpayers.

Currently, the district does not plan on running permissive levies.

Trustee Don Hofmann agreed with Campbell as he has heard from several voters who were confused on where and when to vote. 

“They either forgot the election or didn’t know about it,” said Hofmann. 

According to Campbell, the district won’t be getting rid of any teachers or programs due to the failure of the levy.

He said last Friday that the district had planned on re-roofing the Highland Park and Jefferson elementary schools, but now won’t be able to finish both projects. Money has already been allocated for the Highland roof to begin this summer but it’s up in the air whether they will be able to finish the work.

The Jefferson roof is around 30 years old while the Highland rood is 20-30 years old.  The Highland roof was scheduled to be done first because there have been problems with it leaking for the past five to six years. 

The district also wanted to upgrade the security systems, lighting amd doors, replace windows, and do other work that is now being pushed to the back burner.

“We’ll put some things on hold; that’s just a fact,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, the district will begin to prioritize what needs to be done and what can wait. 

The operational levy that was defeated would have raised $195,412 and been in place for a year. It would have increased property taxes on a home valued at $100,000 by $22.79 per year, while taxes for a $200,000 home would have increased by $45.58 per year.

(Contact Ashley Roness at starnews@midrivers.com or 406- 234-0450.)