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Community college foundation set to help raise funding, pass levy

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BVCC Foundation founded to help raise funding, pass levy

Community members have stepped forward to serve on a Bitterroot Valley Community College Foundation. There are some pledges set contingent on a levy passing to support independent education in May.

A Bitterroot Valley Community College Foundation is now officially in the works and just waiting for approval at the state level.

BVCC Foundation board members are Terry Nelson (chair), Terry Ryan (vice-chair), Kierstin Schmitt (secretary), Damon Erickson (treasurer), Saundra Amsden, Jo Gamazel, John Grant, Gary Leese, Candy Lubansky, Chris Rowles, Dixie Stark, Don and Marci Smith (‘ex officio’ members, Marci is BVCC board chair) and Don Gardner, BVCC secretary.

Other community members have expressed an interest in being on the foundation board but are not yet confirmed.

Foundation Chair Terry Nelson said the levy will allow the college to be  independent of the University of Montana and the foundation will help the taxpayers.

“I don’t want this school going to the taxpayers all the time and trying to raise taxes,” he said. “The way to get away from that is you raise money for it so it doesn’t need to tax the taxpayer.”

Foundation Vice-Chair Terry Ryan said she is pleased with the variety of community members on the foundation board from “across the political spectrum.”

“I’m so happy that in this valley the Bitterroot Valley Community College is considered a nonpartisan issue,” Ryan said. “With the college being independent we could raise more private funding for it, that’s what a foundation does.”

Ryan has organized an initial group of large gift "pledges" to take effect once the operational levy passes in May.

“The independent college folds if the levy doesn’t pass,” Ryan said. “But everyone is enthusiastic about the college becoming independent.”

She said she and her husband Rob made a contingent gift of $250,000 paid over five years and dedicated to starting new programs. She said gathering additional funding is the goal of the BVCC Foundation locally and by bringing funding in from outside of the valley.

“This college is so viable to fill jobs in this area that are needed,” Ryan said. “I’m excited to have classes that provide infrastructure, needed infrastructure in the valley.”

She said it would be a boon for high school seniors interested in the medical fields and also for students interested in the trades.

“In many areas, community colleges provide electricians and offer welding for college credit,” Ryan said. “If it is not offered for college credits, it is not eligible for PELL grants, which are monetary support, an outright gift from the government to low-income earners to go to school.”

BVCC Trustee Chair Marci Smith said the foundation isn’t limited to just nine members.

“You can have quite a few members and we are hoping for 13,” she said. “The people who have stepped forward to be on the foundation is such a phenomenal group,” Smith said. “It is a phenomenal diverse representation in Ravalli County, and I couldn’t be happier.”

She said the spectrum range is seen in ages, career backgrounds and political affiliations.

“It has both sides of the political spectrum and we really do have a great diversity,” Smith said. “It is a great, great group.”

She said the main goal will initially be to pass a levy and levy education for the community.

“The foundation will be our charitable arm as we move forward,” Smith said. “Hopefully, when things move on and continue, we’ll have our own brand of soiree, a yearly fundraiser. But to start, the main goal is to raise funds to help us pass the levy.”

According to Smith, the amount and precise wording of the levy will be set at a BVCC Trustee work session on Jan. 19.

According to the Ravalli County Election Office website, the Community College trustee and levy election will be held on May 3, 2022. Trustee candidates must file by March 24. The community college district boundaries include Corvallis, Darby, Hamilton, Lone Rock, Pinesdale, Stevensville and Victor. Trustee candidates must live within these boundaries to qualify to run for office. BVCC trustees currently holding office, but whose terms expire in May include Marci Smith and board appointee Carrie Guarino.

Levy and candidate ballots will be mailed out on April 15. The election is by mail ballot only, polls will not be open.

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