By Tim Leeds
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller told the Havre School Board at its January meeting Tuesday night that the legislative education forum held in Helena on Jan. 4 went very well.
"I think the message came across loud and clear," Miller said.
He said he felt that the legislators see the funding problems in the Montana public education system, but they don't think there is enough money to solve all of the problems.
The breakfast forum, which was sponsored by groups including the Montana School Board Association, School Administrators of Montana, the Montana Rural Education Association, the Office of Public Instruction, the Board of Public Education and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, was billed as an informational meeting to discuss K-12 and higher education issues with the legislators.
Topics of discussion at the forum included trends in education funding in the last decade, enrollment trends, funding formulas, maximum budgets for K-12 and higher education, recruitment and retention of staff, maintaining quality of education and the connections between economic development and education.
Miller said that he felt that there was no need for Havre board members and administrators to be at the legislative session most of the time. He said there will be key points and key bills where their presence at the session could be beneficial, and that he would keep the board informed of the times of those key discussions.
Director of Operations Ric Floren told the board in the finance meeting before the regular board meeting that significant enrollment reductions in the Havre system are projected over the next decade, which will also reduce the total funding. A portion of the K-12 schools' budget funding formula uses the "average number of bodies" (ANB), related to student body size, to determine funding.
Floren said projections estimate that the number of K-12 students in the Havre district will drop from 1,386 in the 2000-2001 school year to about 1,200 in the 2004-2005 school year. He said that the estimates project that the high school population will increase from 702 in 2000-2001 to about 756 in 2004-2005, but that the class sizes will probably drop after that. The average student body at the high school by 2010 will probably be about 500 to 550 students, Floren said.
Floren also pointed out that, although the budgets will drop due to declining enrollment, some costs that are out of the school district's control will continue to rise. Projections for electricity and fuel costs show an increase from $267,912 in 2000-2001 to $357,804 in 2003-2003, almost $90,000 in two years.
Floren said that these are costs that the district has no control over, but still has to build into the budgets. He said the Havre district is fortunate because of improvements to the roofs, doors and windows approved by the school board. He said because of the increased efficiency, the district actually reduced costs from 1998-1999 to 1999-2000, even though electricity and fossil fuel rates increased.
Floren reviewed projections of the schools' fiscal analysis for FY02, which includes estimated ANB; non-levy revenues; cash; expenditures and revenue for FY01, and estimated property tax valuation for FY02, which assumes no additional loss in value. Under this analysis, the district would lose $235,727 in the elementary district and $240,919 in the high school district. The high school loss could be offset with an increase in mill levies, but the elementary district is at the imposed budget cap and cannot increase the levies.