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Letter: Superintendent Discusses Levies

Dear TFS Parents & Stakeholders,

During our recent March 19th Board meeting, the TFS School Board unanimously approved a levy proposal to be placed on the May election ballot. The district is encouraging all Three Forks community members to become informed about this levy and the factors leading to the decision to place a general fund operating levy before our voters. In the coming days and weeks, the district will share a variety of information that is intended to inform TFS district parents and patrons. This information will be shared through various platforms including our district website, newsletter, Facebook, and news outlets. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or for further clarification.

Why is a levy needed?

Since the start of the 2021-22 school year, the district has been involved in a building project that has added more than 38,000 sq ft to our district campus. This construction was funded through a Bond initiative that is strictly regulated by the bond language. These funds may only be used for construction and renovations, not operational costs. The operational costs for the district’s general fund have dramatically increased over these past three years due to the rising cost of gas, electricity, phone & data, property & liability insurance, and grounds, custodial & maintenance costs. Besides building expansion and inflationary impact, an additional contributing factor has been the end of ESSER (Covid) relief funding. Over the past four years ESSER funding has assisted the district budget by covering a variety of operational expenses including custodial, curriculum needs, staffing costs, technology, and student programming. The district has used this funding wisely to help offset operational costs but will no longer have this source of revenue due to governmental final funding allotments.

As shared over the past two years, without a voted levy, the district has been forced to use reserves to cover operational costs. This is not sustainable, and the district can no longer operate without either a levy increase or a substantial reduction in staffing and programming. The current shortfall for this year is expected to be approximately $155,000 between elementary and high school budgets. The projected shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year is a combined negative total of $385,000. Teacher budgets have already been drastically reduced and a minimal 1.5% salary increase this past year has left our staff salary falling behind competing districts.

The proposed levy includes funding needed for the budget shortfall as well as an increase to the teacher’s base salary from $36,610 to $38,441. TFS must continue to support teacher salaries in order to offer a wage that is competitive and that will sustain family life. Sadly, the district has already received five resignations from staff for the upcoming year. The consistent message we are receiving from staff and new candidates is that they cannot afford to live in the Gallatin Valley on the salary offered at TFS. We are losing great people who love working at TFS!

The TFS district is not alone in the current financial climate affecting schools. While many districts have reached their maximum levy capacity with prior levy increases, the TFS district has not passed an operational levy since 2017 and is currently only operating at 87-88% levy capacity in both the elementary and high school districts. While many other districts are forced to cut staff and programs, Three Forks Schools has the option of passing a voted levy that will provide for a balanced budget as well as a modest salary increase that may help retain and recruit quality staff.

The Three Forks School District has a proud history of providing quality education and varied extracurricular opportunities for our students. Additionally, the TFS campus serves as a hub for the community, open to the public and students for a wide variety of experiences and events. Please support your local school and community in our efforts to provide high quality education and opportunities to our children and families.

Ballots will be mailed out April 19th with the election date of May 7th. The ballots may be returned through a mail in option or dropped off at an election drop box at Three Forks Schools.

Please visit our district website for more information or contact the Three Forks Schools.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rhonda Uthlaut

 
 
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