GREAT FALLS — With the educational levy slated to be on the ballot in Cascade County on May 5th, supporters of the proposed levy, such as Kids’ Education Yes! (KEY) and United Way of Cascade County are hoping to get in front of the movement by making sure that everyone knows what they’re voting for.
On Wednesday, March 4th from 4:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. at SpringHill Suites, KEY invites members of the community to join “education leaders” at a rally to support school funding. Organizers, supporters, and students will be speaking about the proposed levy and the future of education in Cascade County.
United Way Marketing Director and KEY volunteer Kim Skornogoski says that this is a good opportunity for the public to learn about what they will be voting for in May.
“A lot of people don’t understand school funding. There’s probably a half-dozen people in the whole state that really understand it,” Skornogoski explained. ““We really are taking this opportunity to let the community know what is happening with budgets in our schools, what’s happening with teachers and everyone can come and learn more about the upcoming school levy.”
There will also be information about how the public can get involved in supporting public education outside of just voting for the levy. That could be as in-depth as volunteering their time to spread the word about the levy, or simply putting a yard sign up on their property.
The levy itself is, at the same time, both complicated and pretty straightforward.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve only passed two school levies, and those school levies are part of the budget picture in order to make our budget whole,” said Skornogoski, who also has a daughter in Great Falls Public Schools. “The state pays 80 percent of the bill, but local taxpayers need to pay 20 percent. We go out for levies trying to reach that 20 percent, and when we don’t get those levies over the course of 10 years, local schools had to cut more than 10 million dollars, which has amounted to more than 100 teachers, and so as a consequence, classrooms like my daughter’s are overcrowded for older kids. It means fewer class choices, having to choose between taking the AP Calculus class and band, things like that. It also means additional stress for our teachers.”
The state’s 80 percent comes to each district, but it’s up to the districts themselves to provide the remaining 20 percent. If there was enough school funding to cover the remaining budget, there would be no need for this levy, but there’s not enough, and there hasn’t been for a while.
This excerpt from the 2019-2020 GFPS District Budget guide provides come clarity on how the process is supposed to work:
“The Great Falls Public Schools budget process takes place throughout the year as the Board Budget Committee meets to analyze budget trends. This includes a careful evaluation of enrollment information, as it is a major driver in determining the final budget. The one time per year the Trustees can ask voters for additional funding is in conjunction with the annual trustee election held annually in May. By law, the Board must adopt the budgeted funds in August each year.” – GFPS District Budget Information
Trustees ask for money from taxpayers via a levy every year to cover their portion of the 20%, and according to Skornogoski, the levies fail to pass more often than not.
You can expect to see more information about the proposed levy - including the dollar amount - as we get closer to the vote in May.