The school district, by way of its political action committee, Kids! Education Yes! (KEY), has been driving home two major talking points in its campaign for the levy. At best, the arguments are highly misleading.
First, there is the claim that Great Falls Public Schools has cut over 100 teachers in the past 10 years as a result of failed levies. By implication, KEY would have voters believe that our schools are run by a skeleton crew, needlessly stripped down by child-hating idiots who cruelly refused to acquiesce to GFPS’ annual money grabs — mill levies that, lest anyone forgets, stick to our tax bills permanently once they are passed.
According to the district’s political operatives, teachers lost their jobs (also an assault on children), all because you were too selfish to forsake one latte a month.
The truth, however, is much more nuanced.
In the 2001-2002 academic year, GFPS employed 803.81 FTEs. That year, those employees ran a district with an enrollment of 11,643.
Fast forward to 2019-2020, where enrollment sits at 10,500. The FTE count? 737.
In other words, the number of employees declined along with enrollment, a perfectly logical outcome. Moreover, while it’s true that some teachers were cut in the past decade, it is also true that teachers were hired over the same time period. Any organization as large as Great Falls Public Schools naturally realizes HR-related ebbs and flows, beyond just the cuts that KEY billboards on their mailers and on their comment-free Facebook page.
In 2009-2010, the district employed 799 FTEs. KEY doesn’t want to tell voters about the district’s net change of 62 less FTEs — hardly the “more than 100” talking point that is made ad nauseam ad infinitum. KEY also refuses to properly contextualize this shift by admitting that this modest decrease in employment coincides, dating back to 2001, with similarly decreasing enrollment.
Second, levy proponents love to whine that voters have passed only two levies in the past 10-12 years. It is technically true, as School Board Trustee Kim Skornogoski wrote in her candidate profile, that “Great Falls has passed two levies in 12 years.” Indeed, operational levies were passed in 2010 and 2014.
Do you know what else is true, but is carefully omitted from the district’s narrative?
In 2016, voters approved a $100 million bond levy.
Of course, you won’t read about that in any of the district’s “woe is us, the rubes in town have it out for the kids” propaganda leaflets. In fact, you’ll read just the opposite. According to KEY, it’s all about the “cuts,” and how they continue to decimate our community.
“These cuts are hurting our children, our teachers and our community’s ability to grow and attract new people to our city.”KIDS’ EDUCATION YES!
We hear this same tired line every year. I asked this before, and I will do it again: “After Great Falls voters generously passed a $100 million bond levy in 2016 — an amount 50-100 times greater than the average operational levy — which new businesses came to Great Falls as a result of this considerable investment? What, exactly, were the measurable impacts? Did an economic renaissance sweep our community without anyone noticing?”
I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer.