Voters just approved a building bond, why is the district asking for money again?

In October 2016, voters approved a bond for much-needed maintenance projects for school buildings. By law, the bond can only go to building improvements – that’s what taxpayers were promised when they voted for it.  This levy is needed to cover the basic costs of education – teachers, books, aids and counselors. Basically — bonds are for buildings and levies are for learning. If the elementary levy passes, Great Falls will have reached the state set cap for funding elementary schools. Unless the number of students changes or the legislature adjusts the caps, Great Falls schools can’t ask for more money from local taxpayers.

Could the district use reserves instead?

Even with the levy, the district plans to use more than $156,000 from reserves to cover an unfunded state mandate to provide student achievement data.  The district’s reserves generally are restricted to be used for specific purposes. Having reserves prevents the district from turning to taxpayers when boilers break or enrollment spikes. And reserves helped the district earn a better interest rate when borrowing money for the building improvements.

Can’t the district cut administrators?

They have. Administrative positions have been among the cuts over the last 10 years. For example, there are two less cabinet level administrators – one position was reduced this past year. The 28 school principals are required to meet state standards. Their salaries make up 3.8% of the annual budget. While Great Falls is the 2nd largest school district in the state, its district administrators earn the 3rd lowest salaries among AA schools.

Could the district sell unused property?

Selling property is a one-time fix for ongoing costs. The district owns seven properties without buildings, three could be available for sale. The remaining four properties aren’t for sale because they are in neighborhoods where enrollment could increase and new schools may be needed.