Votes for school funding requests continue to fall short in Hamilton.

The school district saw two more levies defeated Tuesday when Hamilton voters said no to a technology levy and a building reserve fund levy. They are the latest defeats in a rocky record for levy requests in Hamilton.

Since the passage of a pair of 1997 bonds to build a new high school and repair existing facilities, voters in Hamilton have approved two levy requests out of 15 proposed. Passing six out of 25 since the mid-1990s, the district's batting average is .240.

The latest defeat drew an exasperated reaction from some on the Hamilton School Board.

"If people are voting no because they don't have enough money or don't like the product" it's understandable, said board chair Jim Shea. "But if they're going in there and not even looking at what we've put out there, which is what I thought this time... if they're voting no just because they don't like the public schools or what was done before, I have a hard time taking that."

Unofficial results show Hamilton voters defeated the $235,000 technology levy by a margin of 299 votes, or 1,311 to 1,012, and rejected the $1 million building reserve levy by 291 votes, or 1,309 to 1,018. At around 2,300 votes cast, according to Superintendent Duby Santee turnout in the Hamilton school election was over 25 percent.

Hamilton's no vote on levies comes as an overwhelming majority of school districts statewide approved school funding requests.

According to the Montana School Boards Association (MSBA), which surveys members each year to tally the results of levy elections, preliminary data has 79 percent of school districts voting yes on proposed levies. At high school levies, voters were even more favorable, passing 90 percent of those requests.

In an e-mail to members, MSBA Executive Director Lance Melton said most levies run this spring were addressing "a means of survival and mitigation of cuts rather than for new programs."

In Hamilton, the board will have to address the looming question: what now?

"We're kind of stymied here," Shea said, with admitted frustration.

Santee said without the ability to pay for technology out of an annually collected tax fund, he might recommend cutting out the use of web-based instruction options in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"We're going to have to look at limiting where we have technology and concentrating our resources where we think it's the most important," Santee said, pointing to programs at the middle and high school levels as more critical. "We really haven't settled on anything, but those are the options because we're just not going to be able to do it all."

The district's K-5 tech support position, which is currently paid for by Title 1 stimulus funds, will likely be terminated when those funds run out after next school year, Santee said.

"We need to contract ourselves, reduce what we're doing and narrow our focus," Santee said.

The picture is less cut and dried when it comes to how the district will proceed without the $1 million in building reserve funds voted down Tuesday.

One answer might be to enact a year-round school calendar for students at the K-5 level, Santee said.

Given that Washington School is potentially in need of $2.8 million in repairs and upgrades, Santee said the voters' apparent unwillingness to pass additional school funds might force the issue.

That plan, which would put all K-5 students at Daly School, would also free up the district to sell Washington and Grantsdale schools, a streamlining of resources that has been talked about for some time.

To accommodate the additional bodies at Daly, Santee said the school could operate on a quarterly calendar over 12 months of the year, with only three-quarters of the K-5 population attending in a given quarter.

"Beyond that there isn't a way to consolidate all those kids without spending a whole lot of money," Santee said. "And it doesn't look like people are inclined to do that."

But Shea said he thought perhaps voters would be more receptive of funding a new building at the Daly campus as part of a K-5 consolidation effort.

"Eventually we're going to have to build something," Shea said, though he admitted voters' recent record on funding schools will make any plan like that a tough sell.

Trustee Corrine Gantt said the finance committee planned to immediately start talks on the issue of ‘what now?' with regards to paying for repairing and upgrading the district's facilities.

"That's going to be the main topic of conversation," Gantt said. "We have some really pressing building issues that we have to deal with. We have to get that taken care of, though I'm not sure where that money is going to come from."

Gantt said she was dismayed that people didn't seem to understand that it was up to the residents of the community when it came to improving, or even maintaining, their kids' schools.

"I guess people don't understand that running levies is the only recourse we have because we're a tax-funded organization," Gantt said.

Gantt summed up her frustration by recalling that the trash bin at the Hamilton Post Office was overflowing with copies of a flyer explaining the rationale for the levies.

"It's been my experience that people don't know [how school funding works] and don't want to know," Gantt said. "If I'm coming off bitter, maybe I am. I feel badly for the kids we're trying to educate."

Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or sjannotta@ravallirepublic.com.

 

(27) comments

independant

Here is the list of "necessary repairs"

http://www.hsd3.org/Uploads/file/Maintenance%20Priorities%20-%205%204%2010.pdf

decide for yourself...

Corrine Gantt

I take it from your quotation marks, you don't think these are necessary repairs. What do you find unnecessary about them? The HVAC systems and air exchange systems in all the buildings except the High School are failing and inefficient. Not only does that create either uncomfortably hot or cold rooms, it creates an environment that makes it hard to learn and wastes energy. Fresh air exchange is vital to the health and learning capacity of the students,
The doors and windows are safety issues.

dalice

To state that anyone who voted against the levies is against schools and children is not fair. Many of us are tired of continually seeing our taxes rise, especially those of us on a fixed incomes. The school district, just like individuals, needs to figure out other ways of cutting back, compromising, and consolidating, just as individual citizens have had to do. Education is very important, but in these tough economic times, there needs to be more brainstorming and budgeting, less spending.

Downstream Observer

A school district master plan would be a beautiful thing.

missmay

dalice-Where would you like the cuts? How about parents feed their children so lunches won't be provided anymore? How about heat, better dress those kids warm this winter. How about teachers, so that when the class sizes are above what the state allows then the kids won't get into colleges. How about the asbestos in Daly school, let's just ignore that problem for a few more years. How about buses, that way all parents can drive their kids to and from school everyday. That will be convenient...

2cents

The teachers should really consider taking a pay cut. This could fix a lot of the problems. Times are tough. If the voters would have passed this Hamilton schools would just want more and more. Enough.

amom

It has become increasing clear that the majority of citizens Hamilton do not value education, and by extension, the well-being and future of our town and county. I understand there were issues in the past with the manner in which funds were garnered to build and repair schools, but how long to these people plan on punishing our children and families? What a sad, sad, egocentric place we have created.

tlsmom

i dont believe spending 60,000 on refinishing the gym floor is a necessary repair. Things are tight right now for everyone, so the schools are going to have to budget their money just like everyone else is right now.

Just My Opinion

I have to agree with dalice. Just because I am not willing to spend $50,000 on a new SUV to haul my kids around doesn't mean that I don't care about their safety. Our schools spend 2-3 times as much as private schools for the same or less of an education. My old used van gets my kids around just fine. I wish I could afford the new SUV so they could ride in style, but I can't afford it, I'm paying too much in property taxes.

Corrine Gantt

The comments made here are helpful.
The trustees always welcome input from the community. We have been working on a master plan and would love to have a group of local residents engaged in helping us develop it.
As far as asking the teachers to take a pay cut-
The district has contracts that have been signed with the staff. the real case scenario would result in reduction of staff, which would result in reduction of services and or over limit class sizes.

Corrine Gantt

Regarding the gym floor
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The gym floor sees a lot of use and if the district doesn't maintain it, the expense to either repair or replace it could be prohibitive. There are safety issues when the floor's finish is degraded and the floor warps.
Remember, the gym is what enables the district to host tournaments that bring business and revenue into the community during the off tourist seasons.
That said, that issue is pretty far down the list.

Blah

I fully expect the veterans levy to fail. If Hamilton won't support kids, then we can't support veterans. how sad.

Skeptic

Missmay, "How about parents feed their children...." What a concept! Parents seeing to the essential needs of their own children rather than leaving the responsibility to the taxpayer. School breakfast, school lunch, summertime cafeteria privileges, plus foodstamps; Give me a break!

thinker

2cents-
The teachers in HSD3 have not had a raise in the last two years. However, the administrators have.
Roughly figure out the amount payed for child care at about $450 per child/month. If teachers were paid this rate their salaries would be about $93,000 for a class of 23. The average teacher in Hamilton makes considerablely less than half this. You can check the salaries, they are public information.
The school does not pay for lunches. Parents pay or qualify for a FEDERAL free lunch.

Skeptic

Thinker; Oh NOW I get it, my FEDERAL taxes pay to feed other people's children, not my LOCAL taxes. Somehow, that does not make me feel better.

bigger picture

To Skeptic
You may not be aware of it, but Montana is one of the states that receives more from the feds than we pay in.
In a perfect world, everyone would be able to take responsibility for their children and would send them to school well fed and ready to learn.
We don't live in that perfect world. Would you prefer the children just go hungry?

Skeptic

Thanks bigger picture, I guess that as long as we Montanans are net recipients of federal largesse, that it is all ok. Once again, the funding is coming out of SOMEBODY's pocket.

2cents

If we can feed twenty million illegal immigrants, we should be able to feed some American citizens.

bigger picture

Skeptic...
Were you educated in the public school system? Did someone pay for your education out of their pcket?

bigger picture

pardon me...pocket

Skeptic

Bigger Picture; Don't obfuscate or obscure the issue, I support public schools for education, but parents need to assume responsibility for their childrens' basic needs, such as nutrition.

thinker

Skeptic-
The point is the local school board/taxpayer does not subsidize the lunch program at the local level.
Have you visited any of the schools during lunch to see how many children do bring their lunch from home? As far as I know the schools are open for visitors.

bigger picture

How do you "basically educate" a hungry child? I agree, as I said before, that in a perfect world, parents should assume the responsibility of their children's basic needs. But in this imperfect world we live in, for a variety of reasons
not all of them do.
A little compassion goes a long way. It's been an issue for very long time. We should support this type of Christianity in the schools.
I suggest you read Ezekiel 16:49 or Matthew 25:41-45 among a myriad of other verses on the subject.

Skeptic

Bigger Picture; Thank you for your condescending interest in my spiritual well being. The issue is not compassion, it's responsibility.

missmay

The teachers in this school district are outstanding in every sense of the word. If you have any questions about what is going on in the local schools, go visit!! Or at least take a look at the website and check out what is happening or go to a board meeting. If you think there is a better way for figuring out the funding, join a committee...get involved!!

bigger picture

Skeptic,
We are communicating on two different levels. There are children in the district that are not getting fed adequately. Children don't learn if they are hungry. The lunch program feeds those children. The district is tasked with teaching those children. The lunch program is a reality.
Denying the school district funds will not change the lunch program or make the parents more responsible. Not supporting the school district for that reason is, in my opinion, disingenuous.

Corrine Gantt

To those of you that support the school district with your vote and your comments, Thank you!
The district received a grant for just asbestos abatement at Daly. Maintenance work will be done there this summer. Had the levy passed, while those ceilings were opened up, the district would have efficiently updated the HVAC systems at the same time.
Now, the panels will be replaced, and Daly faces the same temperature and energy efficiency problems. The kids safety is our highest priority.

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