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Canyon Creek School presenting $136,000 mill levy to help with budget

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Posted at 10:15 PM, Apr 12, 2024

It's that time of year when school districts in Montana are putting their budgets together for next school year.

Some districts are concerned that cuts may have to be made, if they don't get the help they need from voters in May.

The Canyon Creek School District is facing funding challenges, much like districts across the state.

Last year, 58% of the voters were against the mill levy, and the district has not passed a levy in 20 years, according to board members.

The board believes that the trust is back, and it's proposing another mill levy this year.

Even with the growth on Billings far west end, a school district like Canyon Creek, like many others is struggling.

“Our district, as with any others, we're seeing the rise of cost of every little thing,” said Kelly Hickey, Canyon Creek School board chair.

Hickey and the board have now turned to a proposed $136,000 mill levy to try and avoid what could be drastic cuts impacting students.

“We need some help,” Hickey said.

Last year the board had to make some tough choices, planning to eliminate sports and other activities this school year, until Valley Credit Union swooped in with a one-time donation of $22,000.

The board hopes to avoid a similar scenario moving forward.

“Cutting back is just not something that we want to do," Hickey said. "We want to serve the students well and want them to have the opportunities that everybody else has."

“It's important for our kids to have effective classrooms and updated curriculums,” said Sarah Kottke, PTA vice-chair.

Kottke says the PTA has brought parents, teachers, the administration, and the board together in search of solutions.

“It's just been a complete 180 from just some of the stuff that we've had in the past,” Kottke said. “We've got just so much more camaraderie."

The proposed mill levy of $136,001.47 would add $80.19 a year in property taxes for a home with a taxable value of $300,000.

Canyon Creek School sits just south of Interstate 90 at the west end and is very similar to 72% of school districts statewide, which have fewer than 250 students.

“So I believe the funding formula is flexible,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Else Arntzen.

Canyon Creek trustees and others would like the funding formula to work better.

Arntzen says all districts statewide are putting together their budgets and only time will tell how many others will need to consider cuts or mill levies.

“We're here if they need any help, but I can't direct them to put on the levy,” Arntzen said, emphasizing local control. “I cannot and nor will I ever tell them that they can or cannot. That is not my role as state superintendent.”

Tough decisions impacting students and families, as districts such as Canyon Creek look for ways to try and stay open despite uncertain futures.

“We can't predict the future,” Hickey said. “There has been no conversations of what ifs. Our focus right now is growing our school, growing our community and keep on providing a great education and positive opportunities for our students.”

Hickey said the ballots get sent to voters on April 17.

Ballots must be postmarked by May 2 if they are sent to the Yellowstone County Elections Office, and can be hand delivered though May 7.