I hope that this quarterly newsletter finds you well and that you’ve found time to enjoy summer. First and foremost, thank you for your support of our kids and our school. Because of the outstanding support from the community, our kids and staff are blessed to have a wonderful school. We here at the school district are off and running, and excited for a great year. There have been some significant changes for the district we’d like to share with you:
Last legislative session was not the greatest for education funding; in efforts to balance the state budget, two bills that resulted in cuts to school funding were passed into law.
House Bill 647 passed on approximately $200,000 to taxpayers of the Ennis School District; this amount was previously funded by the State of Montana. We want you to know that this decision was a legislative decision, not a school board decision. Based on taxable valuation, taxpayers will be assessed approximately 2 mills, which is approximately $5.52 per $200,000 home.
Senate Bill 261 also allowed for state revenue cuts to schools. During the first phase of cuts, Ennis Schools will not receive $26,000. This shortfall will not be passed on to taxpayers, but rather the school district will simply not receive this revenue. We were unaware of these cuts until mid-July. At the end of August, schools were informed of an additional $3 million dollar cut to education across the state of Montana. The Governor’s office ordered state agencies to submit a plan detailing where the cuts will take place; at this time, the total amount that will be cut for Ennis Schools is uncertain. It is anticipated that the cuts will compare to amounts cut during the first phase.
It is my goal to stay in contact with our legislators and keep informed of legislative actions that may affect our school. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding these new laws.
Budgets and Finance
Every August, Trustees adopt an annual budget, which is often discussed in measures of “mils,” or an amount of one dollar per thousand dollars of assessed property value. Taxable valuation plays a big part in our budgets in that it determines how much a mil is worth. Over the past several years, trustees and administration have carefully budgeted to keep mils as low as possible for you, our shareholders.
However, we do have funds that are currently low, and I recommended to the board to increase mils in the transportation, adult education, and building reserve funds. The transportation fund is how we pay for busing students to and from school, bus repairs, Individual Transportation Contracts, etc. The Adult Education Program is a wonderful program offered throughout the school year offering many diverse learning opportunities to our community.
The building reserve fund is funded in two ways: by voted and permissive levy. Last spring, voters approved a levy of $60,000/year for five years—for which we cannot thank you enough. Through a new state law, the fund may also be supplemented by permissive levy, which allows trustees to increase mils without a vote. To ensure the building reserve fund is strong enough to withstand any unforeseen facility emergencies, trustees levied $66,200 to shareholders. The tax increase is approximately $1.83 per $200,000 home. Our facilities and their upkeep are crucial to a safe and positive learning environment, and we would like you to understand that the decision to increase mils to pay for the building reserve fund was not easy or taken lightly. We value your trust, and applaud your continued support of our community and our kids.
Like many schools, Ennis is having difficulty finding drivers for our bus routes. If we cannot find drivers, then we cannot have bus routes. Luckily at the moment, we have staff that willingly helps out as drivers in addition to their regular duties. Our alternative to bus routes is an Individual Transportation Contract for families that live more than 3 miles from the school. When a parent drives their child to school, the reimbursement rate is $0.35/mile. We want to work hard to try and keep our routes. If you or someone you know may be interested, please contact me at the school and let’s talk!
VoTech Classrooms and Remodel
On a positive note, the VoTech project that voters approved during the 2014-2015 school year has become a reality. This project would have never have been accomplished without the community’s support for our kids. The new addition and remodel ensures safety and security for our kids, incentive for more student involvement in VoTech education, and provides tremendous learning opportunities. The increase in square footage also allowed us to move art classes to the new building to accommodate increased enrollment and limited space in the high school.
An open house is scheduled for Wednesday, September 20 from 5:30-7:30pm. Please come by and see what your support has done for our students. You can also contact me for a tour; I’m happy to show you around.
School and Student Safety
Another big but positive change is added surveillance cameras in school buildings. With a growing student population, it is a priority to make our school safer and more secure.
Many schools around the state have a student drug testing policy in place. Last May, the school administration and board began a discussion about testing students involved in extracurricular activities. We sincerely hope that students would choose not to bring illegal drugs into our district, and we also hope a drug testing policy would give students one more reason to say no if given the opportunity. Also, it makes sure correct procedures would be in place to keep kids safe as well as to get them assistance if needed. We are taking our time to make the best choices for our school and welcome your feedback on the subject.
School Recognition and Awards
I am very proud to say that at the Montana Conference of Educational Leadership in October, the Ennis Board of Trustees will receive an award for the amount of training they have completed in a one year period. Great job Trustees!
Because of the hard work of our staff and the community’s support of our facilities, Ennis School District has also been recognized as Montana School’s Group Insurance Authority’s member school of the year. Key to earning this award is the fact that our staff did a great job of finding time outside their workday to complete safety trainings. This is an outstanding honor and we are very proud of our school, staff, and community in their efforts to make our school facilities a safe place.
In closing, we hope that you are having a great Fall season! Please feel free to stop by my office or call with questions.