GFPS votes to forgo levy

The Great Falls Public Schools board voted unanimously during their March 28 meeting to forego an operational levy this year.

The board’s budget committee had recommended foregoing the levy and the full board approved that recommendation.

GFPS budget committee recommends no levy this year

That means there will be no levy on the May 3 school ballot, but there will be several school board races on that ballot.

If the board had opted for a levy, the maximum it would have been able to see would have been $240,467 in the elementary district and $749,263 for the high school district.

That would have equated to a tax impact for the elementary district on a $100,000 house of $2.23 annually and $4.46 annually for a $200,000 house.

The tax impact for the high school district would have been $6.83 annually on a $100,000 house and $13.66 annually on a $200,000 house.

There are three trustee positions open with three-year terms for which seven candidates have filed.

There is also a one-year position for which five candidates have filed.

The following have filed for the one-year term:

  • Bradley Anderson
  • Russell Herring
  • Scott Jablonski
  • Caitlyn Nash
  • Amie Thompson

The following have filed for the three-year term:

  • Brian Cayko
  • Mark Finnicum (incumbent)
  • Gordon Johnson (incumbent)
  • Rodney Meyers
  • Michael Nagel
  • Nathan Reiff (appointed in 2021 to fill vacancy)
  • Paige Turoski

The estimated cost of an election is $46,000 if the only item on the ballot is the school election, according to the district. The school board election will be conducted by the Cascade County elections office by mail ballot, which are set to be mailed April 18.

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The budget committee held a community meeting on March 16 and reviewed the district’s finances, enrollment and COVID relief funds.

The district is projecting, for the first time in roughly a decade, to have a small surplus in funds for the next budget year, which begins July 1.

The surplus is due to a slight increase in enrollment and the inflationary factor from the state, according to Brain Patrick, GFPS’ director of business operations.

GFPS board adopts annual reduction in force policy in preparation for budget process

The district also has large chunks of federal COVID relief funds, but those are one time funds with deadlines by which they must be spent and Patrick cautioned against hiring staff or reestablishing programs or creating new ones since they’ll run out in the next few years.

Patrick said that the district will likely be in okay financial shape for the next two budget cycles, but he’s concerned about the following budget years as costs continue to increase but the state education funding remains steady.

Kim Skornogoski, chair of the budget committee, said during the March 16 meeting that forgoing the levy now makes sense, but “we know costs are increasing.”

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Patrick walked the committee and the public who attended the March 16 budget townhall through the history and mechanics of school funding in Montana.

The state formula, which has existed since the 1980s, has the state fund 80 percent of a district’s operational budget and leaves the other 20 percent up to local taxpayers to fund through levies.

The Legislature sets and adjust the formula for school funding that is primarily based on enrollment.