Budget considerations

Long-standing agenda item will see some action at Twin Bridges School District’s next board meeting

The Personnel and Business Committee met on Feb. 23 in Twin Bridges, Mont. with a familiar agenda item to consider.

This agenda item—Twin Bridges Schools Budget Considerations for FY2022 with bullet points titled Reduction of Programs Consideration and Reduction in Force Consideration—has not been acted on by the Twin Bridges School Board yet. The meeting held last week was for the public.

“The real intent of the meeting was to listen,” Twin Bridges School Board Chair and Personnel and Business Committee member Steve Janzen said. During February’s board meeting, it was brought to the board’s attention that community members and teachers wanted more of an opportunity to express themselves.

“The majority of the staff was there, virtually and in-person. They presented some of their thoughts and there were community members there also that presented their thoughts on how they would like to see this be handled,” Janzen said.

In early December, Janzen reached out to Headwaters RC&D regarding housing concerns in the area. Housing has been an issue for the Twin Bridges School District since 2018, when the district’s strategic plan was being created. Janzen estimated that a third of the school staff does not live in the district.

Funding for school districts is based on the Average Number of Belonging (ANB), or the number of children in attendance in a district. These funds go towards staff salaries and benefits, extracurricular activities and curriculum costs.

In summary, a lack of affordable housing results in less students and less money for these things. In December, Janzen provided the following ANB numbers:

In 2016 the ANB in Twin Bridges for K-6 was 108; 7-8 was 44; and 9-12 was 104 for a total of 256 students. Projected numbers for the 2021 calendar year were 115 for K-6, slightly higher due to the added prekindergarten program; 30 for 7-8; and 78 for 9-12, resulting in a difference of 33 students.

General themes of the committee meeting included reductions in school administrative staff and reductions in IT expenses to address the budget dilemma. Other items that took less time in terms of discussion included minimizing concessions and janitorial staff expenses.

Earlier in the year, the board considered waiting to see what funds for schools from the state legislature and the CARES Act might mean for the district. Last month, it was decided it would not be prudent to wait until likely May or June for funding decisions to be made.

Superintendent Thad Kaiser will present the school board with his recommendations on the FY2022 budget during the March 9 school board meeting at 7 p.m. This will be an action item on the agenda, so the school board will make a decision based on Kaiser’s recommendations.

“There were people in the audience that said they wanted to know early what Mr. Kaiser’s recommendation is,” Janzen said. He explained that in terms of process, that is not how it will work. Kaiser will make his recommendation at the public school board meeting. The community and board members will learn of the recommendation at the same time.

“That’s why we hired Mr. Kaiser was because he has the knowledge and the practice and the authority to make this recommendation, and that it’s the board’s job to determine how to act upon that recommendation,” Janzen said.

The meeting will be offered in-person, or through Google Meet. Information on how to join virtually will be on the school board agenda, found on the Twin Bridges School District website.

“This meeting…it’s a culmination of a whole lot of work,” Janzen said.

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