Micah Hill

When people think of “school safety,” their thoughts probably leap to the nightmare of an active shooter situation. School districts across the nation are spending more and more time and resources on preventing and preparing for this possibility - and many other kinds of threats to school safety, from cyber security and data protection, to secure facilities and security systems, to behavior intervention and access to community support services.

At MCPS, providing safe and secure schools costs our Elementary and High School District about $4 million annually. Currently, these costs are paid for out of our general fund - the same pot of money that pays for teacher and staff salaries, teaching materials and supplies, and insurance and utilities.

MCPS budgets are experiencing unprecedented pressure due to three main developments: the loss of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding; a decline in student enrollment; and steep increases in the costs of essential goods and services.

The majority of ESSER funding received by MCPS was invested in staffing to help support our students through the pandemic. Now, that funding source is going away - and with it, some of those staff positions. Meanwhile, enrollment in our Elementary District has declined by nearly 500 students since Fall 2019, and along with declining enrollment comes a decrease in the amount of funding we receive from the state.

Some public school districts in Montana facing similar budget challenges have proposed closing schools, among other drastic measures. That is not something we are considering at MCPS. Instead, we are working to balance our budgets in a way that has the least impact on students.

MCPS has two levy requests on the ballot for the May 7 school elections that will play a pivotal role in our budget decisions moving forward.

The General Fund Levy would allow us to fund our general fund at the maximum allowed under the strict state funding formula. For the Elementary District (grades K-8), that levy total is $105,134, which means a tax increase of 79 cents per year for every $100,000 in assessed property value. For the High School District (grades 9-12), the levy is for $403,627, which means a tax increase of $1.65/year per $100,000 in assessed property value.

Given these numbers, you can do the math: If your home has an assessed tax value of about $400,000, and you live in the Elementary District (which is located  within the High School District), you would pay less than $10 a year in new taxes. Remember: Assessed tax value is not the same thing as market value, which is often considerably higher.

MCPS is also asking for a Student Safety and Security Building Reserve Levy, which would total $1.5 million for the Elementary District and cost $11.24/year per $100,000 in assessed property value; and a total of $1 million for the High School District, or $4.08/year per $100,000 in assessed property value.

This new Safety Levy would be used to improve our school campus security systems, make upgrades to safety technology and equipment; and pay for school resource officers, school counselors, behavioral interventionists and others who provide safety support for their school building or for the entire District.

A lot more information - including District financial reports, and answers to frequently asked questions - is available on our website: www.mcpsmt.org. I encourage you to have a look.

And I thank you for your continued support of our schools.

Micah Hill is superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools.