Havre Daily News
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller has gone out to the community this week asking for support for two mill levies that will appear on Tuesday's ballot.
"We're looking at probably the best deal we've had in the last 10 years," Miller told the Havre Rotary Club on Thursday.
Voters will be asked to raise about $98,000 - $32,837 for the high school district and $65,317 for the elementary school district. If Havre voters approve the increase, it will mean an additional $131,351 from the state for the high school district and $198,907 for the elementary district.
In the case of the high school district, that's $4 from the state for every local dollar. For the elementary district, it's three state dollars for every local dollar.
Without legislation passed this year, HPS would not have been able to ask voters to approve a mill levy at all, Miller said.
State law dictates maximum and minimum spending on schools. Additional state dollars add to what the district can ask for from local taxpayers. If the mill levy passes, HPS will be operating at the maximum level allowed.
District budgets got a boost this month with the passing of House Bill 63, a school funding bill. It provides $32 million for public schools next school year. That comes in a 2 percent across-the-board increase as well as an additional $250 for each elementary student and $100 for each high school student.
Some of that money must be matched with a local tax increase before the state will pay it.
Miller said Havre was helped by a provision in the bill that allows districts to average three years of enrollment ecords to obtain the number of students the state will fund. That effectively adds back one-third of the enrollment drop Havre saw in the past three years.
HB 63 was the Legislature's response to an October Supreme Court decision that the state does not adequately fund education or base funding on educational factors. The numbers Havre is juggling, however, are the result of more money, but not a change in the funding system, which was postponed. Enrollment and local tax dollars are still the operative words.
Education lobbyists have advocated a funding system that takes into account the number of schools and classrooms a district must support because slight variation in classroom numbers don't impact the amount the school must spend.
The Legislature passed a bill defining quality education, satisfying one of the Supreme Court's demands. Its task now will be to create a funding formula based on "educationally relevant" factors. The Legislature has organized an interim committee that will have until October to recommend a new formula.
The committee will have some local members. Senate President Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, is on the eight-legislator committee and Miller is one of the committee's three ex-officio members.
Miller, who is chair of the Montana Board of Public Education, has also served on the School Renewal Commission and the K-12 School Funding Advisory Council. He said he will take to the interim committee recommendations that those two committees made in 2001 and in 2003.
School funding has to account for inflation, Miller said.
"You can't just ignore it for the next 10 years," he said.
Also, Miller said schools should not be served the leftover funds after the rest of the state budget is set. He hopes the committee will recommend that school funding come from a variety of tax sources and not rely so heavily on local taxes.
One rotarian questioned Miller about the HPS budget Thursday.
"Your story is not near as horrific" as news coming out of Billings or Glendive, Dave Greenwood said. He asked Miller why that was.
Miller said he chooses to focus on the positive. If voters approve the mill levy, Havre's budget will increase 4 percent, from $10.17 million to $10.6 million. That accounts for inflation, plus 1 percent.
"The community is supporting the needs of the school," Miller said. "That might not be the case in other places."
HPS is facing health insurance costs for next year that will outpace inflation.
He said earlier in the month that those costs might lead to cuts in other areas.
The election will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Havre High School gymnasium.