By Tim Leeds
Havre-area educators Kirk Miller and Sandra Murie are two of the members of an education advisory council appointed by Gov. Judy Martz.
Miller, superintendent of the Havre Public Schools and chairman of the Montana Board of Public Education, and Murie, superintendent of Rocky Boy's School District, and the other members of the council will study the current school funding system and make recommendations on changing it.
"I think that the current funding system is extremely complicated, on the verge of not being understandable, and I believe we need to address the issues of adequacy and equity," Miller said today.
"I believe (public education) is underfunded," Murie said. She also is concerned that any changes to the system not penalize schools that receive federal funding in place of state property tax money.
The council was created by House Bill 625, originally proposed by Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, in the 2001 Legislature. Martz appointed the members of the council Friday.
Miller said the council, under the original draft of the bill, would have been a legislative council, but basically was turned into a governor's council by the end of the session. He said the governor's office and the Office of Public Instruction have been doing preliminary work to collect information to give to the council.
"(The bill) evolved so much through the session," he said.
Murie said one of the reasons she agreed to be on the council is to make sure rural impact aid schools are represented.
Schools that are on reservations or near military bases or other federal land and do not receive state property taxes for that land receive federal impact aid because of their lower property tax income. Murie said she wants to see how any changes proposed would impact the balance of state and federal funding for those schools.
Murie also said her district applies for grants to support its academic programs, and wants to make sure proposals for changing the system do not reduce her district's funding because of those grants. If it does, she added, "we're almost being penalized for seeking academic support."
Miller said he has some ideas how the funding system could be improved, but he wants to go to meetings of the council and look at the data and how it is being collected before he starts making recommendations.
Any changes made would have to address both the adequacy and equity of the funding, he added. The council must make recommendations that are in accordance with current laws, including equity of funding for all districts, or make recommendations for changes in the laws, he said.
Murie said she doesn't have any recommendations for changes now.
"Not at this point. I'm totally open," she said. "I'm not making any guesses."
Martz appointed her education policy advisor, Jeff Hindoien, as chairman of the council and Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff to the superintendent of public instruction, as vice chair.
Other members of the council include Rachel Villeux, Missoula County superintendent of schools; John McNeil, Savage School District superintendent; Geoff Feiss, trustee of the Helena School District; Dennis Burr, Clancy-area resident; and Linda Tutvedt, parent from Kalispell.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.