The Florence-Carlton School Board on Tuesday voted 3-2 to not put a new mill levy on the May ballot.
The permanent levy would have been used to raise about $150,000 a year for the district. The money was needed for salaries and operating expenses. The increase would have added about $30 per $100,000 of assessed value annually to property tax bills.
In all, the levy would have added about 3 percent to the district's $5 million annual budget.
Voters approved a mill levy in the spring of 2008 but since then, said Superintendent John McGee, costs have only increased.
"What happened with those dollars is the cost of running a school district has increased," McGee said. "You have contract costs, increased insurance costs and inflationary costs. The business of school gets more expensive as the years go by, and the state of Montana has put districts in a position forcing us to go to local taxpayers and ask for support."
School board members said they were uncomfortable asking taxpayers for more money when times are already tough.
"At this time it's hard for people to manage everything they have got to manage," said board member Mel Finlay, who voted against the measure. "A lot of people now are unemployed and it just did not feel right to me that one faction should be gaining while everyone else is in the process of losing."
Denial of the measure means the district will have to cut expenses from its current budget and take an even harder look at the 2011-12 budget.
McGee said the district would look at reductions in force through attrition this year as well as program cutbacks next year. Teachers could be taking on more classes.
"All employees, all categories will be looked at," he said.
Program cuts could, for example, lead to the loss of German language classes, or business technology courses.
A separate option - finding ways to raise money - is rather devoid of opportunity. The school could charge students, say, to join certain clubs or earn money through cookie sales. Neither of which realize much in the way of cash. Unless the state comes up with new funding options, the pathway toward revenue, McGee said, is pretty limited.
"The cuts," he said, could have significant impacts, I am not going to second-guess the board."
"For the average resident it would have been less than $10 a month," McGee said. "It makes you ask what kind of opportunities are we going to be able to offer our students."
At the same time, however, the district will respect the board's decision and take a hard look at what can be cut out of the existing budget.
"Here we had a very vibrant log home industry that existed in the valley not so long ago which many parents made a living off of and today you see very few of those businesses existing," he said. "It begs the question - how are those layoffs affecting parents and what shape is the economy in at this point. I am not going to second-guess the board."
Finlay said he'd welcome suggestions from the community on how to save money while preserving programs. He does not think any drastic cuts will be needed, though he did say the school could likely get along fine without its resource officer.
"I think we can lean the budget out a little bit," Finlay said. "I think there are ways to cut back and save and if there ever was a time to save money now is that time."
The bottom line, he said, is efficiency, and that small gains can combine to make big improvements.
But with the district's budget already thin, McGee said the lack of a levy would simply place the district in more dire straits next year.
"I believe we will be in the same situation," he said, "where we have even more difficult questions to answer. In the 2011-12 school year we are going to be real concerned with funding. But we are fully aware of the things that may happen and we understand that in these economic times the community desires to make sure there is an efficiency within the system and that those efficiencies are applied before we are asking the taxpayers for more money."
School board members Victoria Cornish and Dorothy Rhodes did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Log on to RavalliRepublic.com to comment on this and other stories.
Reporter Jeff Schmerker can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.