GREAT FALLS- Believe it or not, next year's school budget is already on the table for discussion; and this year, they're doing things a little bit differently by asking for your help.
A handful of meetings are coming up that parents are highly encouraged to attend, discussing not only the school's budget, but the future of your child's education.
“This year’s seniors have fewer opportunities than seniors did even just four years ago,” explains Kim Skornogoski, a school trustee on the School Board Budget Committee.
Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of the of the Great Falls Public Schools (GFPS) system.
While there are many good aspects to the school district, those same good attributes have slowly over-shadowed the negative ones.
“We're seeing larger classrooms, we're seeing teachers choosing to leave the teaching profession because of pay and because of stress,” says Skornogoski.
However, this problem is affecting more than just the students; with over 100 teachers having been cut over the past 12 years.
“That's just teachers, but there's librarians, and after school programs, and we're not updating curriculum as much as we should, so books are old and programs are getting cut,” explains Skornogoski.
In fact, if you drive to just about any other school district within 30 miles of Great Falls, starting pay for teachers is higher than what is offered here.
Now you might be wondering, why this is a problem?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question involves the choices our community has made.
“Over the last 12 years, we have only passed levy's twice,” says Skornogoski.
Passing the school levies has been a bone of contention for some.
Several people have told KFBB they don't want to pass a new levy because the school should be able work within their means.
“I understand their concern that the school district keeps coming and asking for money, but this is the mechanism that the state has given us. We don't have an option to pay for increased costs if we don't go to local tax payers,” says Skornogoski.
The state of Montana provides 80% of funding for schools, allowing communities to provide the last 20%.
However, here in Great Falls, because that levy has not passed, the school system is forced to find money somewhere else.
“Just to cover our current costs, we need more money. And if we don't get that money, we will need to make cuts; and it will be cuts across that board,” explains Skornogoski.
So far, nothing has been decided; which is why they're starting things a little earlier this year, giving you a chance to join the conversation
Currently, the school district still needs between $1.3- $1.5 million to operate efficiently.
If you're interested in joining the conversation, public meetings will be hosted on the following dates:
• October 24th; 5:30p.m at the Aspen Room of the District Office
• November 7th, 5:30p.m at Giant Springs Elementary
• November 20th, 5:30p.m at Great Falls High School
• November 25th; 5:30p.m at the District Office