Lone Rock School administrators are hoping to convince voters to pass a levy this spring, helping them solve a serious crunch in state funding which has developed over the past couple of years and they say the community has provided valuable input in making those key financial decisions.
As the oldest continuously operating school district in the state, Lone Rock School north of Stevensville has a long history of community involvement and support. But that's been a challenge in recent years, as the district struggles with declining enrollment, and a corresponding drop in state funding.
The school board has been surveying residents to measure support for a levy package to make up some of the difference.
"Montana Office of Public Instruction sets our budget authority for us. And when I came on board we were face with a $95,000 cut that year to our General Fund. And then the next year we had a cut that was the same. Last year was a $25,000 cut. So we have lost about $240,000 from our General Fund in the last three years. So that makes us set aside and re-prioritize some of our spending," Lone Rock School Superintendent Scott Stiegler said.
With the surveys the district hopes to learn where the community's priorities are for the limited funding that's been available. Those surveys are returned now and Stiegler says the information will form the basis for shaping the levy.
"We'll begin to go through the date. We've hired a consulting firm and they're handling that for us. And so, she will collect that data and will begin to see what sort of priorities emerge from that," Stiegler told MTN News.
With the bond expiring that paid for the middle school 20-years ago, school leaders say there new levy would be tax neutral.
"It is. It is exactly. We want to make sure that we're not burdening the taxpayers further. And it would allow us to have these operational funds to re-instate some programs that we haven't been able to do and to also catch up on some deferred maintenance," Stiegler said.
In fact, Stiegler says the successful completion of the middle school shows the school board and staff are committed to being good stewards of the funding from voters.
"Exactly. And we've been able to demonstrate to our taxpayers that we did what we said we were going to do when they got what they paid for. So, we're excited for this. The election will be a mail-in ballot. The ballots will come out in mid-April and the election is on May 5th," Stieglert said.
Trustees hope to make a final decision on a levy proposal soon, and are promising to have some public open houses to explain the final package.