GFPS budget committee recommends no levy

The Great Falls Public Schools board budget committee voted unanimously during their March 16 meeting to recommend that the district not pursue any voted levies this year.

No members of the public commented during the meeting.

The committee will make that recommendation to the full school board during their March 22 meeting for a final decision.

Though the district’s state and local revenues as compared to costs shows a $1.8 million shortfall, the temporary federal funds for COVID relief programs plus the levy that voters approved in 2020 will allow the district to make ends meet for the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1.

GFPS budget meetings this month, will determine action on levy

Based on the state’s education funding formulas, the max the district would be able to levy this year is about $54,000 for the elementary district and about $415,000 for the high school levy.

The tax implications of the elementary levy on a $100,000 house is an estimated 53 cents per year and $1.05 on a house with a taxable valuation of $200,000.

The high school levy would add an estimated $3.93 annually on a $100,000 house and $7.86 on a $200,000 house.

Mark Finnicum, GFPS board member who sits on the budget committee, said that with the low dollar amounts allowable for a levy that it’s not worth it and “I’m thinking our political capital in terms of running a levy is pretty thin.”

Jan Cahill, GFPS board chair who sits on the budget committee, said that with the federal dollars coming in for this budget year and the next few years, that “it just doesn’t make sense to ask the people. This is not the year to go out for a levy.”

County approves budget with $12 annual tax increase; will set mills for other districts on Sept. 8 including special levy to recoup Calumet protested taxes [2020]

Kim Skornogoski, GFPS board member who chairs the budget committee, said that last year’s levy and the influx of federal money for COVID relief will help the district respond to “what I believe will be a significant challenge” in getting students back into the classroom and making up for the interruptions to learning created by the pandemic.

But, she said, the federal COVID funds are short term and “I don’t want the public to think this is magic money raining from the sky. These are real problems that need to be addressed,” she said of closing the student achievement gaps and reengaging students.

Superintendent Tom Moore said that with the exception of a short closure around Thanksgiving, the district has been able to remain open for face to face learning this school year, in part by using the federal funds for cleaning and staffing needed to support students, plus that to support the remote options.

School levy approved for Great Falls [2020]

So in terms of offsetting the deficit this year, “we are in a good place to be able to deal with this deficit in the short term.”

He said that district officials are working on a “reengagement, reintegration and remediation plan” that will be presented to the board in April that will be funded by a mix of federal and general fund dollars to address pandemic related education gaps.

The district has received federal funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, as well as the CARES Act funds that were funneled through the state.

According to GFPS, the breakdown of those federal funds so far is:

No candidates have filed for school board seat, deadline is March 25

The board’s agenda that night will include considering that recommendation and taking action to prepare for the 2021-2022 budget. Public comment is included on the agenda, as it is at all public meetings.

The board has not given any indication yet that it intends to put a levy on the May ballot, but if they were to do so, they’re required to set an amount by April 1.

School levy approved for Great Falls [2020]

Brian Patrick, GFPS business operations director, said that “the elementary levy last year was greatly appreciated” and that the district has more federal funding available this year due to COVID.

In February, the board adopted a resolution for permissive levies, which are non-voted. Patrick said it’s the best guess as to what the district will need in those funds when it finalizes the budget in August. He said that by law, the district must estimate those levies or there can be no changes in the funds.

That resolution included some increases and is available here.

GFPS expects $2.38 million in federal funds for COVID-19 response [2020]

The ballot will also include candidates for an open school board seat. The filing deadline is March 25 and since The Electric reported earlier this month that no candidates had filed, five candidates had filed.

Those candidates are, according to the county elections office:

  • Eric Hinebauch
  • Tucker Lee Schleining
  • Russell Herring
  • Kevin V Leatherbarrow
  • An email filing from Genevieve Smyth, but the elections office will need her original application and has contacted her to let her know.

To provide public comment for the March 22 board meeting, email by 5 p.m. and include first and last name, address, group or individuals you’re representing if any, and the comment you want to address. The comments will be read during the audience participation portion of the agenda.

The public can also participate in person during the meeting or via the comment section on the Facebook live stream on the GFPS Facebook page.