Levy Failure Means Deep Cuts For Libby Schools

By Beacon Staff

Libby voters turned down a $350,000 operations levy last week and now School District 4 will face about a $700,000 budget shortfall. After the vote, Superintendent K.W. Maki said there was a “strong possibility” that some classes would lose state accreditation next year.

On May 7, election officials counted 936 votes for the levy and 1,149 votes against it. Voters also elected John Carlson and Leslie Nelson to three-year terms on the school board of trustees.

“I’m pretty well frustrated,” Maki said. “But I’ve been here for 15 years and we’ve only passed one levy before… (These cuts) will be difficult for us.”

Now Maki and school officials must decide what staff members and programs will be cut in the coming weeks. Maki said the board of trustees was meeting on Monday, May 13 to look at the budget. This year, four teachers have retired and 14 non-tenured teachers were told in March that they might not have a job at the end of the school year. Even before the levy failed, Maki was taking a red pen to the 2013-2014 budget. Cuts include $10,000 in energy savings, $55,000 cut from the activities and athletics budget and $213,000 from the retirement of four teachers. Maki said it’s likely that five full-time positions will now have to be eliminated.

“My job now is to make the best of a bad situation,” he said.

The shrinking budget – which is about $7 million annually – can be attributed to enrollment numbers that have decreased substantially over the last two decades. In 1994, 2,180 students attended Libby’s public schools. This year, there are 1,131 students at the schools. Maki says an aging population has a lot to do with the decline. The closure of mines and mills has also taken a toll. According to Maki, the year after the Stimson Lumber Co. mill closed the district lost 172 students.

The decline in enrollment has also put the district’s class ranking at risk. In 1987, the high school was class AA, but now it’s class A and on the cusp of falling to class B. In recent years, the district has worked to save money and cut expenses. In the last 15 years, it has closed three elementary schools. Since 1998, it has reduced administrative staff by almost half. Teachers and support staff have been cut by 36 percent.

“The smaller you get, the harder it is to shrink without having a negative impact on the kids,” Maki said.

Maki said it is possible that some classes will lose state accreditation if teachers have to be let go and the ratio of students to instructors drops. He said it’s too early to know what additional cuts will have to be made and it will depend on the final state budget.

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