School board budget committee recommends mill levy campaign

The Great Falls Public School Board convened on March 3 in the last installment of a series of budget meetings to discuss budget plans for the 2014-2015 school year.

After discussing options for obtaining funds and hearing public comment, three members of the budget committee – Bob Moretti, Jan Cahill, and Johnny Walker – voiced their support for a mill levy of at least $1,015,000.

The district was informed late last week that it would receive $629,000 less than expected from the state and must decide if withdrawing more funds from reserves, or savings, or campaigning for a mill levy is a more viable choice.

Walker, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, said he is reluctant to withdraw more funds than necessary from reserves.

“I’m very opposed to draining reserves,” he said.  “With my philosophy, I can’t help but look at the long-term consequences…  Our costs continually go up.  We can’t continue operating without continued help from our community.”

Most people attending the meeting were opposed to taking all funds from reserves.

“There is an overwhelming majority that supports some levy,” Moretti said.

In previous meetings, leaders discussed current and projected expenditures and presented information on where funds from a levy would be allocated.

Along with providing student addiction support and upgrading technology, Superintendent Tammy Lacey said that, on the high school level, the school district hopes to “enhance facilities with safety in mind.”

“This is still a real problem for our community,” Lacey said.

At the end of each meeting, the public has voiced their concerns and asked questions, and district leaders have addressed them.

Objects of concern have included everything from Common Core standards to infrastructure problems.

Most speakers at the March 3 meeting were in favor of campaigning for a mill levy with a few voices of opposition in the mix.

Brad Talcott, owner of James Talcott Construction, said there has been a call to action the community has not responded to, and it is time to respond.

“We’ve been saying no way to long.  It has been OK; it has been accepted.  It’s not OK anymore – it’s time to step up,” he said.

Talcott said education is an important investment.

“It’s just common business sense to invest in your future.  We have that opportunity now,” he said.

Several educators and Great Falls residents spoke up.

Cahill said he has seen more community involvement in recent meetings than ever before.

“We have never had this level of participation in the nine years I have been here,” he said.

Walker attributes the increased level of public input to the district’s goal to be transparent in the budgeting process.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have listened to the public,” he said.

Moretti said the public has a great deal of efficacy in the budgeting process, and he encourages community members to continue to attend board meetings and contribute their input.

“The budget is designed for the public to help, and we need the public to help,” he said.

Walker said that the public’s support of education is apparent, but, with differing opinions on how money should be spent, district leaders and community members must work together to determine what measures are necessary in order for the district to continue operating at current standards as well as promote further growth.

“In general, everyone supports education.  I believe there are different opinions in how far we have to go and how much money we have to spend.”

The school board will announce its decision regarding the mill levy on March 10 at 6 p.m. at Paris Gibson Education Center.

There will be a time for public input and community participation is encouraged.