School board: District won’t float levy. Pitch made for soccer fields. Parent unhappy about blanket

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A conceptual drawing of new soccer and lacrosse fields between Ruder Elementary and the junior high. (Photo provided)

They won’t float a levy. Soccer folks pitched new soccer and ball fields. And a parent wasn’t happy about how a peace blanket was given to the Blackfeet by the girls basketball team.

That’s some of the topics that were touched on at Monday night’s School District 6 board meeting.

The levy

The board decided to cancel asking voters to approve modest levies at the elementary and high school levels. The board considered floating a high school levy of about $15,000 and an elementary levy of about $61,000. Even though the state has already passed an education funding bill, the inflationary increases aren’t covering the increase in expenses, clerk Dustin Zuffelato told the board. Elementary enrollment is down one student, at 1,508 students. But the high school enrollment is up 20 students, from 655 students last year to 675 this year. The additional state funding at the high school level basically balances its budget. While the board canceled asking for a levy, taxes will be going up, because it also approved permissive levies that don’t have to be voted on for transportation expenses — buses.

The increase will amount to a $23 hike to a house assessed for $200,000, the district estimates.

The fields

Tom Coburn of the Flathead Rapids and Columbia Falls boys soccer coach O’Brien Byrd pitched the idea of new soccer, football and lacrosse fields in the currently vacant fields between Ruder Elementary school and the junior high school.

Coburn noted that about 500 kids from Columbia Falls play youth soccer, about a quarter of all students enrolled in school. Right now, when leagues are going full tilt, soccer fields are at a premium, Byrd and Coburn noted. They estimated the cost of the fields would run about $624,000 for four fields, and an additional $312,000 for parking, if it’s added. The pair suggested the school board add the fields to a bond levy the board is considering for improvements to the elementary schools.

“It could be a selling point for the bond,” Coburn told the board.

Board members liked the idea, but noted money is tight. They suggested the group contact the county recreational program. Softball fields and practice fields below the high school were developed jointly with the county, the city and the district 20-plus years ago, board member Mike Nicosia noted. The board made no decision, but will take up the matter further at its next meeting.

The blanket

Parent Shawn Cowan was displeased that the girls basketball team offered a peace blanket to the Browning Indians. Cowan said the team shouldn’t have been involved and parents weren’t notified. There’s had been a palpable tension between Native Americans and white fans after Columbia Falls parent Beau Hill held up a sign that some interpreted as racist at a game. Hill apologized and said the sign wasn’t meant to be racist, but the school looked to further diffuse the situation and send a message of goodwill to the Blackfeet.

Cowan claimed the team shouldn’t have been involved.

“I don’t think the girls had anything to do with the situation,” Cowan told the board.

He also said he didn’t have a chance to talk about the situation with his daughter, who plays for the Wildkats.

The district planned to give the blanket on its own, but on Tuesday night, principal Scott Gaiser said he spoke with girls basketball coach Cary Finberg and there was a team decision the girls would give the blanket to Browning en route to the state tournament in Great Falls the next day. Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said Cowan was right, that parents should have been notified directly, but the district also had concerns about player and fan safety heading into the state tournament.

Gaiser said the move wasn’t meant to be political and there was an assumption that the players would tell their parents.

In the end, the blanket was well received and Browning showcased the gesture on social media.

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