GFPS Shell Game

Is the GFPS District really short of cash, or are their cries just a sleight of hand?

If, as Mark Finnicum, a school board member who also serves on the board’s budget committee said, the $1.75M upcoming levy isn’t to add new programs or staff but “is maintaining what we already have” is true…

…why is the district sitting on $8,958,473 of Federal Impact Aid Funds?

(According to school district staff, since the June 30, 2018 budget reported the GFPS Federal Impact Aid fund account at $9,563,780 it has only been reduced by $605,307, leaving the most recent balance at $8,958,473.)

According to the Montana Legislature Interim Committee on School Funding, “Federal Impact Aid to Montana’s school districts is classified as ‘Non-budgeted’ funds and can be used for a wide variety of expenses, including the salaries of teachers and teacher aides; purchasing textbooks, computers, and other equipment; after school programs and remedial tutoring; advanced placement classes; and special enrichment programs.

Most Impact Aid funds are considered general aid to the recipient school districts and may be used in whatever manner they choose, in accordance with state and local requirements. Although most school districts use Impact Aid for current expenditures, funds may also be used for capital expenditures. Payments for Children with Disabilities must be used for the extra costs of educating these children.”

The district’s General Fund figure for school years 2000 – 2001 $50,478,160 has increased for 2019-2020 to $71,538,984, which reflects a $21,060,824, or almost a 30% increase while enrollment for the same period has declined by 1,299 students.

This should confirm that the district’s growth has occurred because the district has now become a social services agency providing medical services, daycare, counseling and adult education.

Additionally, the administration has become bloated, like may other school systems, with salaries topping the charts.

Our City, County and Nation are facing the worst health and financial crisis of our lifetimes. Now is not the time for the school district to ask local taxpayers to dip deeper into their pockets for a school levy that the school district doesn’t need.

It is time for the school district to live within their means and redefine their mission to provide public education.

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Philip M. Faccendahttp://www.straymoose.com
Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

8 COMMENTS

  1. When this story was being researched and the school district was contacted for comment regarding the question highlighted above, “Why is the district sitting on $8,958,473 of Federal Impact Aid Funds?”, what was the explanation they gave?

  2. Nice read. It’s good to see another side of the story. There’s probably more to this but I don’t think you will ever get a straight answer. It’s just like the graduation rate. At one time it was an abysmal 75 percent. Imagine, 1 in 4 students who walked through those doors wasn’t going to graduate. The administration knew it, the teachers knew it, and most importantly the students knew it. Now, instead of doing a better job, they come to my house, your house, and your neighbors house with hat in hand asking for more money. For what? You failed.

  3. Just as a point of reference, in regard to the passage above about the $50.5M budget in 2000-2001 vs the $71.5M budget in 2019-2020, any number of inflation calculators found on a Google search figure $50.5M in 2000 dollars is right around $75M in 2019 dollars, as compared to that 2019 budget of $71.5M.

    For instance: https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

  4. Terry Bjork,
    This levy is an insult to any sane person in Great Falls, especially now in the midst of a financial disaster that is affecting individuals and businesses. The school district should pull the levy from the ballot NOW! Vote NO to any tax increases.

    • E-City Beat,

      I asked a question regarding what the school district said about the Federal Impact Aid Fund money, and I pointed out that the current budget is less than inflation compared to 2000, since those were compared in the original article followed by a conclusion based on them. I offered no opinion in favor of the levy or against it.

      I would still like to know what the school district had to say about that Federal Impact Aid Fund money. Thank you.

  5. So as the Great Falls Public Schools continue their negative trajectory and continue to have funding shortages how do you expect to bring middle-class class jobs and families to Great Falls? Besides saying no to the levy, what are your suggestions?

    Our family is currently exploring options to relocate to another location in Montana with better schools, specifically because we’re worried about the current quality of of schools in Great Falls and the lack of support for schools we see here in general.

    Pretty sure even a cursory review of the literature would be able to find the death spiral effect for towns and small cities that are unable to support their public infrastructure.

    School quality goes down, crime goes up, people with the resources to leave, leave. Tax base declines further, you lose more teachers, cops, and firefighters. School quality goes down, crime goes up. More people leave. Rinse, lather, repeat.

    Do the E City beat editors not think that this will happen?

  6. Bill,
    Even though we have many great teachers in the GFPS district, we have absolutely no revisionist thinkers in the GFPS administration. If that continues to be the case, the negative trajectory of education in the public school system will continue. Only one school board trustee has publicly mentioned that consolidation of a number of our schools might be a necessary solution to the problem.

    The bright side to the educational quality free fall in our community are the vastly better outcomes of private educational opportunities here. You might want to check those out if you decide to stay in Great Falls.

    Many studies has shown that more money doesn’t guarantee a school district’s ability to improve student achievement. We need a better way to achieve higher educational results. So don’t get lathered up when taxpayers are the real ones who are getting hosed.

    In the meantime, please check this past E-City Beat piece, and keep reading.
    https://ecitybeat.com/a-great-falls-to-bozeman-eye-opener

  7. Bill,
    Even though we have many great teachers in the GFPS district, we have absolutely no revisionist thinkers in the GFPS administration. If that continues to be the case, the negative trajectory of education in the public school system will continue. Only one school board trustee has publicly mentioned that consolidation of a number of our schools might be a necessary solution to the problem.

    The bright side to the educational quality free fall in our community are the vastly better outcomes of private educational opportunities here. You might want to check those out if you decide to stay in Great Falls.

    Many studies has shown that more money doesn’t guarantee a school district’s ability to improve student achievement. We need a better way to achieve higher educational results. So don’t get lathered up when taxpayers are the real ones who are getting hosed.

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