Letter to the Editor: Superintendent discusses general fund levy
April 6, 2022
Dear Three Forks Community Parents & Stakeholders,
A $241,650 high school district and $398,350 elementary general fund levy will be on the May ballot following a unanimous vote by the Three Forks Public Schools Board of Trustees. Three Forks Schools has not passed a general fund levy since 2017. Since that time TFS school enrollment has experienced a 21% increase. Funds generated by a general fund levy may cover a wide range of operating expenses. The mill levy can cover increasing costs related to health insurance, property liability insurance, utilities, technology, maintenance and salaries.
The Three Forks School District is permitted to levy up to $464,724 in the elementary district to reach the maximum state allowed budget and $294,341 for the high school district, for a total of $759,065. The TFS District is requesting a total of $640,000 with the Board’s recommendation. Some districts run a mill levy annually to stay in step with rising costs. Since the TFS District has not passed a levy since 2017, the gap required to reach our maximum budget has continued to widen.
The TFS proposed levy is intended to address the increased operational costs expected for the 2022-23 school year. TFS is adding more than 30,000 square feet of additional learning space for students. This additional space will require additional staff including teachers, maintenance & custodial, and support staff. Wage increases for current staff will also result in increased operational costs as the district attempts to offer compensation comparable to similar positions in neighboring districts.
Recently, the district has been unsuccessful in attracting applicants for several posted job vacancies and expects the situation to continue unless wages are competitive. Cost of living and limited housing options in our community make the retention and recruitment of staff extremely challenging for the Three Forks Schools. The district is facing staff shortages in multiple areas including bus drivers, resulting in decreased transportation routes and services this past year.
While the subject of increased taxes is not a welcome subject, the job of the TFS administration and Board is to bring the issues to the voters and keep them informed. We are very thankful to this community and the support it has provided for our schools. We are anticipating the opening of our new high school and elementary wings this fall. The unavoidable truth is that additional space requires additional operational funding. To staff these classrooms and programs requires a living wage for teachers and support staff. If TFS plans to attract and retain staff, we must be competitive with other districts. We know that other districts are planning to provide significant wage increases to address the staffing shortages. A request for a mill levy comes with a pledge by the district for responsible stewardship of your tax dollars as we work to provide a high quality education that meets the needs of all students.
We welcome questions and comments from the community and will host a Town Hall Meeting on Monday, April 11th at 6 pm in the TFS high school cafeteria.
Dr. Rhonda Uthlaut
Three Forks Schools J-24
212 E Neal St