Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Hill County Commission is considering taking another step to reduce county expense but has met opposition by the person who would be affected. The commissioners will hold a public meeting Monday at 10 a.m. to collect comments on whether they should cut the county superintendent of schools position to part-time. Shirley Isbell, who holds the position now, said Tuesday that would be a mistake the duties required of the position could not be fulfilled with less than fulltime hours and the action also undermines a principle of American government. “I think it’s an inappropriate idea because the U.S. government is based on a system of checks and balances,” she said. “If you reduce the effectiveness of the office by 50 percent then the philosophy that the country is based upon also is reduced by 50 percent.” Commissioner Kathy Bessette said cutting the hours is being considered due to budgetary problems after cutting budget requests by $800,000 for this fiscal year, the county believes it still may not make enough to cover expenses. “We’re looking at every avenue because of revenues,” Bessette said. Lost income from investments and from sources such as oil and gas payments And other sources such as people registering fewer vehicles and property tax payments filed under protest, tying up that money, have cut into the county’s estimated revenues for the year. The commission last month asked every department to attempt to cut expenses by 5 percent, hoping that would offset having to cut jobs. Bessette said looking at the hours of the superintendent the only elected position the commission is considering reducing is another possible way to save expenses. Commissioner Mike Anderson said this morning that, although there are many variables, reducing the position to part-time could save the county 40 percent to 50 percent of the department's $102,421 budget. Bessette and Anderson said that cutting the superintendent position to part-time or combining it with another office already has been done by many counties in the state. Anderson added that, especially as the number of schools in the county decline, the role of the superintendent has changed. Harold Blattie, executive di rector of the Montana Association of Counties, confirmed that much of the state has reduced the position. He provided a list of counties 23 including Cascade and Toole which have combined the office with other offices, usually the county treasurer or clerk and recorder. He did not have data on how many of the remaining counties have reduced the single position to part-time, but estimated that about a third had done so. He added that Yellowstone County, including the Billings school districts, has combined the county superintendent position with that change taking effect Jan. 1, 2011, and Flathead County including the Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls school districts, also has started the move to consolidate its superintendent position. Isbell said that cutting the position’s hours or combining it is a mistake. Although no one seems to be complaining, so nothing is being done to restore the full-time superintendents in those counties, “Many of the duties and responsibilities are not being met,” she said. In a prepared statement, Isbell detailed the requirements to hold the office and responsibilities of the county superintendent. In the opening of the statement, she wrote that the position costs individual taxpayers one cent of every $100 paid in taxes. Some of those duties include oversight and reporting of school district budgets and finance, serving as the chair of the transportation committee and overseeing bus route issues, checking district reports and submitting them to the state Office of Public Instruction, serving as the public information outlet for the schools in the county, serving as the hearing officer in case of disputed school board decisions, overseeing the county spelling bee, writing county policy, checking district curriculum, serving as test coordinator, writing grant applications and keeping all records required by the state. “Serving the taxpayers and district while advocating for education and students is a fulltime job that costs individual taxpayers a few cents a year,” she wrote.