HELENA — In court filings Tuesday, a coalition of Montana school districts and education groups outlined why state funding approved by the 2005 Legislature does not meet court orders to provide adequate money for public schools.
The filing included statements from school officials in Billings, Helena, East Helena, Columbia Falls and White Sulphur Springs.
Here are some excerpts on what they said:
While the state increased its funding this year and next, Billings voters rejected increased local property tax levies to help fund the district and its building reserve fund.
The district has closed an alternative high school for at-risk kids in danger of dropping out, and 32 classrooms in elementary schools exceed the maximum class size as outlined in state standards.
The district also has no budgeted increases for utility costs (which are increasing, nonetheless), and some textbooks are 10 to 12 years old, said Dan Martin, a district official.
The district recently enacted a salary structure that makes starting teacher salaries among the highest in the state. If state funding doesn't go up beyond regular inflationary increases, it will be hard to maintain the pay package, said Bruce Messinger, superintendent of schools.
Local voters approved a technology levy, without which the district could not maintain computers and telecommunications equipment needed by the schools, he said.
White Sulphur Springs
Even with the increase provided by the state last year, White Sulphur Springs' base annual salary for teachers is just $22,800, said Peter Marchi, a School Board member.
"We will probably still be ranked among the bottom third among Class C schools for base salary," he said.
District voters agreed to pay an additional tax levy, but schools still had to cut three teaching positions, leading to increased class sizes in several grades, said Superintendent Mike Nicosia.
None of the improvements at the school this year — new textbooks, upgrades to a computer lab, a dropout prevention program — would have been possible without the levy increase, which passed by three dozen votes, he said.
The district was able to pass a local levy, without which it could not have replaced social studies textbooks it has been using since 1986, said Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.
The school has a total of $1,300 for gifted-and-talented students within a student population of 1,100 students. Beginning teacher salaries are about $23,200, far below what teachers can earn in nearby Helena.