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School board moves funds toward facility maintenance and upgrades; elementary test scores above state average

by AVERY HOWE
Hagadone News Network | June 5, 2024 12:00 AM

Bigfork Elementary Principal Brenda Clarke presented standardized testing data to the Bigfork Public Schools Board of Trustees at the Monday, June 3 meeting. Across the entire elementary school, 52% of students were at benchmark or above at the beginning of the school year for reading. Over the course of the year, that number rose to 68%, with the number of students below benchmark in the intensive category decreasing from 23% to 14%. Bigfork’s numbers remained slightly better than state averages. Math scores also saw improvement across grades.

“We have had groups of teachers come from Columbia Falls to see how we do math, and then they talk about reading as well … because they liked the organization of how our teachers do what they’re doing and then because they’ve also seen our results,” Clarke said. 

Clarke noted that “summer slump” tends to lower reading scores, particularly in younger students, when they are out of school for the break. Teachers offer resources to keep their students up on both reading and math, with summer school also running. 

To support the interlocal fund, the board approved moving approximately $54,000 in excess from the elementary general fund and $127,000 from the high school general fund. The ultimate amount will be determined by how many excess funds become available following payroll, which is budgeted in general funds but some of which has been paid with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. Some unhired positions also have salaries remaining in the general fund. The interlocal fund provides joint funding for the operation and maintenance of both districts. 

The district has been able to build up a nest egg of $1,715,000 in the interlocal. Superintendent Tom Stack listed a 2017 roof on the high school, a new roof last summer on the elementary school, new boilers and a replacement elevator that was funded through ESSER as ways the buildings have been maintained to avoid further expenses down the line. 

“The next big things are picking away at the sewer problems that we’ve had and then looking at those one-time purchases of playground equipment and upkeep of facilities,” Stack said. 

Around $30,000 of the funds relocated to the interlocal will be earmarked for the lower and upper playgrounds. From the Innovative Education taxpayer program, around $30,000 will be available to purchase adaptive playground equipment that is innovative and inclusive of special needs students. The PTA is also expected to help with playground equipment. 

The board approved the renewal of their property and casualty insurance policy, facing rising premiums due to bus accidents and hail damage within the last five years. The school saw a 209% increase in their loss ratio according to this year’s estimate, jumping costs from $75,000 to $106,000. Business manager Lacey Porrovecchio and superintendent Tom Stack noted that new vehicles, several small bus and vehicle accidents, on top of a larger bus accident in Great Falls that had a $100,000-plus payout and $360,000 worth of hail damage were some contributing factors to the increase. Other providers were unable to offer better premiums. 

The last day of school is June 6, with the next board meeting scheduled for July 10.