Victor School Smoke

Regardless of their clean air zone, Victor students went back to school amid air quality warnings from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Smoke from wildfires is particularly unhealthy for children who still have developing lungs.

Richard Rowan, Ravalli Republic

The Victor Public School remains the lowest funded school in the Bitterroot Valley, but is considering putting another mill levy on the ballot.

An Operating Levy request of $196,000 last May would have brought Victor School up to 86 percent funding. The levy failed, and it's now dealing with only 80 percent of what is considered adequate funding.

Victor is the only school in the valley without an operating levy.

The limited funds have forced the school to make some changes including re-negotiating the staff's health insurance policy and not filling a part-time elementary physical education position.

“[We have] managed to cover this with our existing teachers,” said Superintendent Lance Pearson. “We are moving forward with an excellent course schedule that will challenge all of our students to excel.”

Victor School Board member Mary Allred said due to the low funding, the school moved around some positions and has one less office staff member.

“Victor School is the lowest funded school in the state,” Allred said. “There are only four in the state that operate on no levy, for our size.

“The other three are on reservations and you can’t tax federal land. So, it’s not really a comparison, to be honest.”

Allred noted that most schools receive 20 percent above the base minimum from local levies. Yet she's quick to add that the Victor School provides a quality education.

“I think we’re an amazing school,” she said. “We have great teachers and they definitely make it incredible.”

Allred said the board is considering running a levy this May and will begin working on building community support. She noted that it might be difficult, since the previous levy failed by such a large margin.

“I think awareness and community involvement will help," she said. "Our school does amazing with what we have. Teachers put in time, effort and their own pay checks. It will get better - we’ll keep working at it.”

Victor school had a smoky but solid start to the new school year.

“The first morning was pretty straightforward and void of any major hiccups,” Pearson said. “We have smoke in Victor, but this is not our first rodeo with the smoke.”

Pearson said the school has procedures in place to protect growing lungs, such as having students stay inside for recess and sports practices.

“We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of some HEPA filters thanks to our County Health Department,” Pearson said. “We will continue to be vigilant and maintain best practices in regards to smoke mitigation as we eagerly await some rain.”