I am writing to make area taxpayers aware of a situation happening at School District 2 and how it affects the areas surrounding Billings with independent elementary districts that feed into District 2 for high school.
At Monday’s board meeting District 2 trustees will consider forming an interlocal agreement between School District 2’s elementary and high school boards. The reason for this agreement is to take advantage of financial incentives for establishing multidistrict agreements that the Montana Legislature has put in place. Obviously, there is some question if this agreement between two “districts” that share 75 percent of the same tax base and where all seven of the elementary trustees sit on the high school board really fits within the spirit and intent of this law. However, the bigger issue for area taxpayers is the fact that this would give their board the mechanism to comingle funds and transfer them between two distinct tax bases with no oversight.
This would in effect give their board the ability to collect taxes in the Lockwood, Blue Creek, Pioneer, Elysian, Canyon Creek, Elder Grove and Independent School Districts for their high school district and use those funds to subsidize the Billings elementary district. Therefore, our taxpayers would be “double billed” for K-8 education. The taxable value in these “feeder districts” is approximately $58.5 million or about 25 percent of the high school district’s $235.4 million taxable value. We all know that School District 2 has financial issues and could use the extra funding available as an incentive. However, there are needs in the outlying schools as well — both Elder Grove and Elysian are in the process of trying to pass bond issues right now due to rapidly growing enrollment. These areas should not face the possibility of having to help pay for K-8 education in Billings as well as in their local communities; especially when their children do not benefit from the resources that could be diverted from the high schools into the elementary schools.
I truly do not believe that the leadership in School District 2 is doing this with the intent to redistribute large amounts of money. However, no matter their intent — boards change and administrators change — I do not like the idea that they will have the ability to move this money with little or no input from the Lockwood taxpayers or those in the other independent elementary areas. I have been assured that they are putting language in their agreement so that “both” of their boards would have to authorize any funds spent as part of this agreement. There are only two trustees, Teresa Stroebe and Travis Smith, representing these feeder areas on the District 2 high school board; therefore, any four trustees on the elementary board would carry enough votes to redistribute this money however they want.
I urge you to contact Billings trustees and let them know that this is not an acceptable move for our taxpayers. While there will be a short-term gain, I have been informed that they will receive around $100,000 in state funds by forming this cooperative; the long term cost of alienating and double taxing a quarter of their tax base would seem to far outweigh this one time financial benefit. This is especially true in the Billings area where in recent years schools have struggled to to pass levies and bonds. There are many educational needs in Yellowstone County that a true multidistrict cooperative could be formed to address. This would benefit all the area schools and still take advantage of these same financial incentives from the state. We should be working on bringing our communities together to better serve our children rather than redistributing resources from one group of kids in order to benefit another.