I recently emailed all of the School Board candidates and asked them the following question:
Q: In this time of crisis when residents are out of work, are you in favor of acting as Bozeman and Belgrade did by cancelling, or rescheduling the levy for a later time?
E-City Beat will publish each of the candidates’ responses, completely unedited, and in the order in which we receive them.
The first candidate to respond was Bill Bronson. Below is his answer in its entirety:
A: No. Any decision cancelling or postponing the election must be based on measured consideration of all circumstances facing our school district and our community. While we must cope with the current situation brought on by COVID-19, we must also address a long-standing problem with the level of commitment to our local schools.
Over the past ten years, more than $10 million has been cut from the local school budget, and more than 100 teaching positions have been eliminated. It is harder now for our district to hire and retain teachers. Many schoolbooks are outdated. The negative impact on students, teachers, and future growth of our community is unacceptable. The mill levy request, limited to elementary school funding, will have a modest impact on taxpayers. Given that the current COVID-19 crisis is expected to peak and end by summer, proceeding with this critical mill levy request for funding to begin in the late fall is, on balance, necessary. It is an essential investment that we cannot afford to forgo.
Bozeman and Belgrade have experienced significant population growth, translating into greater numbers of students in their school systems. These communities have not experienced what Great Falls has the past ten years, and have greater flexibility to deal with problems like COVID-19. Bozeman has chosen to cancel two levies approximating $669,000, but is continuing with a transitional levy request of $1 million to assure that district’s ability to maintain local support for their new high school in the coming years. Belgrade appears poised to reach a new threshold of student population increases over the next year which will allow that district to adjust its budget to meet the demand, so cancelling a levy request there does not carry with it the same ramifications as those facing Great Falls.