Billings School District 2 will wait a little longer before it forms an interdistrict partnership with itself in an effort to gain access to one-time state dollars.
The board voted 6-3 to delay Monday night's decision. Instead, the board will form a small committee of trustees, SD2 staffers and a representative from one of the small, independent school districts outside the city.
"I think we can do this," said Trustee Connie Wardell, who was one of the three trustees appointed to the committee, along with Lindy Graves and Teresa Stroebe.
At issue is a new state law that allows school districts to partner up as a way to share some resources and work more efficiently.
SD2, which is actually two school districts divided between the elementary and high school level, had worked up an agreement to form the partnership with itself.
The move would have brought somewhere between $150,000 and $250,000 to the district in one-time state money. The board worked with the state Office of Public Instruction and the Montana School Boards Association to draft the proposal.
But the smaller, independent school districts around Billings — such as Elder Grove, Lockwood, Blue Creek and Canyon Creek — balked at the idea, arguing that the state law was intended to encourage partnerships among small districts or between a big district and smaller ones.
Many of the superintendents from those districts attended Monday night's meeting and spoke out on the issue.
Also in attendance was state Sen. Taylor Brown, who worked on the interlocal agreement law.
All of the smaller districts are elementary schools and feed into SD2's high schools. As such, they also worried that with a partnership in place, SD2 high school tax money collected from residents in their smaller districts would end up being diverted to SD2's elementary school district.
"We have a very honest board, a very honest clerk," Stroebe assured the superintendents. "We wouldn't rob from our other district."
Board clerk Leo Hudetz pointed out that a majority of districts in the state, which are made up of an elementary and a high school district like SD2, have already formed such partnerships.
"It's very common," he said. "It's been done all over the state."
Most of the trustees were sympathetic to the concerns of the smaller districts and voiced their desire to study the interlocal agreement in committee with the smaller districts represented before moving forward.
Graves voiced his frustration that it had even become an issue. He pointed to the inequities in state funding between large, urban districts and smaller rural districts.
"Part of this is the state Legislature needs to step up and give us the funding that we need," he said, speaking directly to Brown. "Find a way to fund us properly."