Subscribe for 17¢ / day

HELENA – An advisory council appointed to scrutinize funding for public schools has to keep the state’s pocketbook in mind when it makes recommendations for changes, the state budget director said Tuesday.

“In the end, it will all come down to money,” Chuck Swysgood said. “I realize that. The administration realizes that.” But, he added: “I don’t see a lot of dump trucks coming to throw money at the situation.”

The council, charged by the Legislature with analyzing 13 different aspects of public school funding from state payments to schools to transportation and teacher salaries, met for the first time Tuesday. Swysgood advised the council that it must take a close look at the current formula the state uses to pay for public schools – and that the task isn’t going to be easy.

The president of MEA-MFT, the state’s largest teacher union, told the council the state’s schools and teachers are undervalued and underfunded and “you know it.”

Going against Swysgood’s admonition to keep the state’s finances in check, Eric Feaver said the council should consider tax increases for schools at both the state and local level. He compared fixing Montana’s school finances to saving the Titanic: Rearranging the deck chairs won’t solve the problem, he said.

“It’s all about adequacy, and how we compensate the people who provide services to our children is not adequate,” Feaver said.

Determining whether the state adequately funds schools will underlie all of the council’s work, council member Geoff Feiss said. Feiss, who also sits on the Helena School Board, said money “lies at the heart of everything we’re looking at here.”

The 2001 Legislature required the council’s study when it approved House Bill 625, sponsored by Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre. Under that bill, the council has until the end of the year to make its report, which Gov. Judy Martz and Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch will take to the Legislature’s interim committee on education and local government. The interim committee will then solicit public comment and make recommendations to the governor, who will submit a final report and request to the 2003 Legislature.

The council is tentatively scheduled to meet again during the first week of September.

0
0
0
0
0