Q2 Morning Email Newsletter

Mar 1, 2012 11:10 AM by Vic

Vic Miller's Commentary

BILLINGS - A number of school districts across the state have had to deal with some big time problems in recent years. In rural areas it's often a case of not having enough students to keep the school open. In urban areas it's often a case of having plenty students but having them in the wrong place.

In Billings there has been a great deal of population growth to the west and in the Heights, which has resulted in overcrowding at some schools. At the same time you can drive past Rimrock School which has not been used as a grade school for years.

The Billings school trustees are at a point where they have to make some difficult decisions at a time when the board has some fairly serious image problems.

In the past ten years the life expectancy of a Billings school superintendent is comparable to the life expectancy of Frosty the Snowman. We have witnessed school trustees who seemed intent on proving that cannibalism is alive and well, making the old Hatfield-McCoy feud look like a love fest. Not exactly the atmosphere that inspires taxpayers to vote for mill levies or bond issues.

Then we have the state, which has an interesting concept when it comes to helping fund schools. Montana pays a bounty on every warm body occupying time and space in a classroom, along with a one size fits all plan called a basic entitlement. Under basic entitlement, regardless of how many students are in a district the state gives every district $250-thousand dollars per year. It is the same amount if you are attempting to educate 16,000 students in Billings or a few dozen students in a number of other communities in Montana.

There is no question that $250-thousand a year goes a long way in helping small districts survive, but the argument can be made that basic entitlement is a joke as far as larger districts are concerned.

To a number of us, the states method of helping fund schools leaves a lot to be desired. It might be helpful if our state lawmakers and the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction would step up and educate us slow learners on why they feel this is the best and fairest method of funding schools in Montana.

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