Has anyone else noticed a pattern in the Great Falls Tribune’s education beat? Do you recall its blatantly inaccurate coverage a couple weeks ago?
In an article about this Tuesday night’s GFPS budget meeting, Trib reporter Sarah Dettmer pointed to rising K-8 enrollment, but less high school students in the district this year:
According to the final 2016-2017 school year enrollment numbers, Great Falls Public Schools saw an increase in K-8 enrollment and a decrease in the number of high school students.
According to the School District’s own Power Point presentation, though, school enrollment for grades 9-12 actually increased in 2016-2017.
Because funds allocated from the state of Montana are based on enrollment figures, the claim that the District is battling (partially) declining enrollment leads one to believe that GFPS — through no fault of its own — must now make due with less. Query: Do you think this “reporting” would help or hurt the District’s ability to sell a mill levy to the public?
What the Tribune did get right, however, is that HB 191 will reduce school districts’ funding this year (although inflationary increases will rise the following year):
The original bill inflationary increases offered 1.37 percent for 2017-2018 and 1 percent for 2018-2019. However, the bill has been amended to offer .5 percent for 2017-2018 and 1.87 percent for 2018-2019.
HB 191 was passed unanimously in the Senate and 93-2 in the House as amended by the Senate. Typically, HB 191 is a bill rammed through the Legislature and signed into law quickly, so school districts have plenty of lead time to budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Even the MEA-MFT lauded HB 191 as “a hopeful sign for k-12 school funding.”
What is the District to do, then? GFPS Director of Business Operations Brian Patrick laid out the options:
Patrick said the district can make up this deficit through budget cuts, reducing the number of staff, utilizing reserves or by running a mill levy.
It’s no secret: revenue is down in Montana this year. And while Democrats and Republicans may not agree on what to cut from the state budget, there is at least bi-partisan consensus that reducing spending is necessary. Even Governor Bullock proposed $74 million in budget cuts over the next two years. If the two political parties can agree on belt tightening at the state level, shouldn’t Montana school districts, and in particular, Great Falls Public Schools — recently a benefactor of overwhelming community generosity — exercise similar fiscal restraint?