GFPS budget committee recommends no levy this year

The Great Falls Public Schools budget committee met Thursday afternoon and voted unanimously to recommend that the district doesn’t pursue a levy this year.

The budget committee’s recommendation goes to the full school board on March 25 for consideration.

GFPS looking at options to address projected budget shortfall

Last week, Superintendent Tammy Lacey told the committee that the district is facing a potential shortage of $941,054 to $1.465 million or more between the projected revenues and budget needs.

As part of their motion to forgo a levy, the committee directed staff to further review cuts that would be needed to balance the budget.

The Board Budget Committee is made up of Trustees Jeff Gray, Jan Cahill and Kim Skornogoski.

GFPS budget, levy options to be discussed at March meetings

Skornogoski said she understands that residents are dealing with higher costs for their own bills and that inflation is also facing the school district.

“I understand that people struggle,” she said. “I work with those people every day.”

She was tearful as she expressed frustration that the district spending less per student than other comparable districts and that it “makes a difference in the quality of education.”

Going into this budget, Lacey said cuts are already happening due to decreased state and federal funding for various programs.

The funding issues, Skornogoski said, are not going away so if GFPS doesn’t ask for a levy now, she said she hopes the community will support a levy next year.

Jan Cahill, a budget committee member and chairman of the full school board, said it’s a tough decision to make and “look out at people out there whose kids deserve better than we’re able to give.”

He said the district won’t be able to maintain the pre-K program under continued cuts.

Cahill said the district has an obligation to students and families who want to move here.

“To the people who want to vote no on school levies, shame on them,” he said.

Gray said health care costs are increasing, the district isn’t able to fill vacant positions and employees are being asked to take on additional tasks to fill those voids.

The issue is bigger than GFPS, he said, “the growth of Great Falls depends on the strength of Great Falls Public Schools.”

He said that if the full board agrees and the district doesn’t pursue a levy, “we’ve got some serious considerations to make.”

But since it would cost $20,000 to $40,000 to run the levy on the May ballot and levies have had limited success in recent years, that it probably isn’t prudent to seek a levy now. He said he wanted the district to start educating the public now about why the district believes it needs a levy since it will likely pursue that next year.