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Bigfork Schools divvy up remainder of levy funds

by MACKENZIE REISS
Bigfork Eagle | February 3, 2021 2:25 AM

The vast majority of two general fund levies for Bigfork High School and Bigfork Elementary School were allocated to staff salaries and benefits, and at the most recent board meeting, trustees approved plans for the remaining $92,648. The lion’s share of the levy dollars — just shy of $500,000 — went to staff salaries and benefits, helping to bring the salaries of Bigfork educators in step with those of other Flathead Valley schools.

Sixty-thousand dollars of the remaining funds will be allocated for restoring previously cut expenditure lines and curriculum supplies at Bigfork Elementary School. At the high school the majority of leftover levy dollars will go towards restoring expenditures and for purchasing textbooks.

The board’s original levy wish list included adding and restoring staffing, funds for the school resource officer and financial support for unfunded sports, which are currently responsible for their own fundraising. But those items were eliminated as the list was whittled down from $470,000 to $92,648 following staff salary negotiations.

However just because items were removed from the department’s wish list doesn’t mean a reduction for those facets of the school. Unfunded sports, as their name alludes to, currently don’t receive any funding from the school.

“We have as many sports as a AA school on a class B budget,” Superintendent Matt Jensen explained. For these activities to continue, coaches and participants raise thousands of dollars each year. Cross country, for example, fundraises approximately $9,000 to cover race entry fees, transportation and administrative costs. Jensen said the board considered putting up half of the coaching salaries for those unfunded sports to help jump-start their fundraising efforts, but had to focus on other priorities. Donations to support unfunded sports can be made through the district office and are tax deductible.

A total of $26,000 between the two schools was originally earmarked for the school resource officer, a Flathead County Sheriff’s deputy who helps ensure a safe and secure environment on campus, but that line item was cut as well. However, Bigfork Schools still has three years of grant funding left to support the SRO, so they won’t have to allocate those funds from their own budget just yet.

“Nowhere in there do I want to cut the SRO program,” Jensen said. “What I wanted to do originally was to earmark some money in the levy funds to sustain funding for the SRO, but our new challenge is how do we work in the next three years to re-incorporate that cost into our budget before that grant runs out?”

The other substantial cuts to the original levy wish list were expenditure line increases for school supplies. Jensen said the budgets for school supplies have been cut over the years and to compound that challenge, inflationary increases haven’t been added either. With the remaining levy funds, the schools are each still $10,000 away from where they were in 2007.

“It would take restoring those lines plus inflationary increases,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get there with either one. We weren’t able to restore the expenditure lines to 2007 numbers.”

While the general fund levies didn’t solve all the district’s budgetary woes, the combined $590,000 in levy funds did provide an 8% increase on the base salaries for Bigfork educators, along with a 1.5% bump for each of the following two years plus a one-time 3% bonus. The previous maximum a teacher could earn at Bigfork Schools was $69,892, where other institutions offered between $76,840 and $88,000 for an equivalent position. The new maximum is $71,966, including the master’s degree stipend.

The next meeting of the Bigfork School District 38 Board of Trustees will be held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 in the high school library. Attendees may also join remotely. Information on how to access the meeting along with meeting agendas are available at www.bigforkschools.org/about/board-meetings.