Saturday, June 22, 2024

Opinion: Superintendent explains levy impacts

| June 5, 2024 7:35 AM

The past four months have been a whirlwind of communication efforts to ensure that everyone had the information they needed to make the best decision they could make for themselves during the May elections.

The three levies that Columbia Falls School District 6 proposed during this election time were meant to provide the continuation of services to our students as well as some much needed repairs to our high school building. 

We felt that we provided the best information possible so all voters could be informed. The over 40% voter turnout demonstrated that our voters wanted their voices to be heard. 

We focused our efforts to ensure that what our schools looked like at the end of the 2023-2024 school year could be replicated in the 2024-2025 school year. 

Unfortunately, that is not what we heard from our voters. We are now presented with manageable challenges in order to ensure that our students and staff have the educational resources they need to be successful. 

As part of the communication cycle, we wanted to share the implications of the levy elections and communicate with our stakeholders the anticipated impacts of the results. 

The high school district (Building Reserve Levy and Operational Levy) had great success in the elections and we are thankful for the decisions that our voters made. The passage of these two levies will allow our High School District to operate in a very similar fashion as this school year. The construction process is underway. We will minimize classroom disruptions during this process as we finish the year, but we need to maximize the time that we have. I will design a section of our webpage where I will be able to provide everyone updates on the construction process. This will be a busy project this summer but I have my full faith in the completion of this project in record time. 

The elementary district (Grades K-8) did not have their operational levy approved and this unfortunately will not allow for the upcoming school year to mirror the current year. 

We have over $460,000 to cut from our general fund budget in order to stay within our budgetary limits. Our current budget has over 90% of our general fund going towards personnel (salaries and benefits). This high percentage shows our dedication to the fact that staff have the greatest impact on student achievement. We focus our budget on people and not things. 

The district has been focused on not terminating employees during this process. You have probably read that many other districts are laying off staff in order to meet their needs. Columbia Falls School District 6 is not in that position. The administrative team has been constantly reviewing positions that have become vacant, either through resignations or retirements, in order to see if the replacement is necessary. If the replacement has been deemed to not be necessary, we have looked to see what that impact would be to students and buildings. This is a difficult task, but manageable. 

Here’s a look at changes in staff at the elementary level. (FTE means full-time equivalent)

• -3 FTE unfilled special education paraeducators whose positions were  moved from the general fund to the tuition fund.

• -1 FTE nurse

• -3.9 FTE elementary teachers*

• - 1 FTE reassigned certified staff member from the elementary to the high school.

Total impact is -8.9 FTE.

Again, thank you for the voter turnout and for sharing your voice in order to help guide the district. We were able to accomplish our budgetary goals by taking advantage of the situations placed in front of us as well as some great work and creativity from our staff. 

During a Finance Committee meeting this spring, the school board also established their guiding criteria for us to utilize when tough decisions needed to happen. These areas (in rank order) are: Accreditation Standards, Added Programs for Students, Sports and Extra-Curricular Programs, and Negotiations. 

In the Elementary District we have two programs that are not aligned with other sports programs in the Flathead Valley. Junior High soccer and wrestling are not found in other junior high schools in our immediate area. We have had these opportunities for students, but they have always competed in the club activities. We have a limited number of bus drivers available and these added activities place additional stress on that department. These programs will be removed from our system for the upcoming school year. 

We feel that students will still be afforded the opportunity to participate in these athletics but they will have to be part of the non-district club programs. 

We know that the non-district club programs that are available are well organized and strongly supported throughout the community and will meet the needs of our students and families. This reduction will help balance our budget and allow for use to reallocate resources back into the district. 

None of these decisions have been easy to make and we also took the time to ensure we could minimize the impact on our students, staff, community, and families. 

We thank you in advance for your understanding as we work through these scenarios to ensure we are doing our very best. Our Board of Trustees will make the final budget approval at the August board meeting and we look forward to another great school year in Columbia Falls School District 6. 

Cory J. Dziowgo 

Superintendent, School District 6