Guest Column

Lifecycle of a Community

We want our children to have happy lives and careers that they enjoy, which offer them the chance to prosper

By Tracey Johnson

Many families are being pinched too tight financially, desperate to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. I’m in the same situation — grateful to have health insurance, and too poor to afford the deductible. Grateful to have full time work, yet struggling to keep up with the bills. And then the car needs brakes — I wonder, can I squeak out one more season on those tires?

I’m angry and I’m struggling, and yet I also know that it is my responsibility to contribute to the community in which I make my home. Other generations provided me with parks to play in, safe roadways and the opportunity for an education when I was young. So now that my kids are out of the house, it’s my turn. We all must provide education, feed the unfed, and shelter the unsheltered. It’s what makes a community work. 

It’s a time of life where we grow up, and realize that when the government is providing something, it is actually WE the people who provide it. And if we don’t, it goes away.

Public education is one of those things provided for by the government (us). State and federal government provides only 80% of public school funding, and the community (also us) pays for the remaining amount through levies. The levies help pay for the vocational programs like agriculture, construction, and automotive. They also help finance the sports, music, and arts programs. A well-rounded education includes these programs. Our community needs tradesmen, musicians, artists, etc. When levies fail, cuts are necessary, and those programs that are not graduation requirements are naturally the ones to be cut. 

Each year, it seems the schools are asking for more money, and there are many opinions as to why. Financial mismanagement! Outrageous salaries! Neglect! 

I have worked in the public school system for 17 years. My son makes more than me at his entry level construction job, so let me dispel that myth. Wages need to be competitive in order to have quality educators! Montana teacher salaries are currently among the lowest in the nation.  

School funding is highly regulated to ensure proper management. Salaries and benefits come out of a specific fund, and that fund cannot be used for other purposes. The same is true for the technology fund — this money cannot be used for salaries. Each funding group has its own checkbook, so to speak, and any shortages mean something must be cut from that area.

Which program should we deprive our children of? 

Some might argue that computers are not necessary to education; however, we all must face the fact that even the most labor-intensive jobs require computers and other technologies. When our children can walk into an interview and say yes, they have computer experience, it places them at an equal standing with the other applicants.

Why, you might ask, do the schools need more computers? Didn’t they purchase many during Covid? Indeed they did — and as this county grows ever larger, so does the school enrollment. Our classrooms are bursting at the seams. This year, when I send a cart of chromebooks to a classroom, there are three to five  students who go without. How do we justify allowing this disadvantage?

We have a wide range of students, many with incredible potential to achieve great things, some who will never achieve employment, and a huge number who fall in between. As a school for the public, for this community, we educate each one. Each child is educated to the highest level that they are able to achieve. Teachers tailor their lessons to accommodate many levels.

At school they are nourished with food, clothing, counsel, and guidance. We educate each one to the level they are capable of, and beyond. We teach them how to learn and discern, and we instill in them the confidence to achieve their highest levels. We want our children to have happy lives and careers that they enjoy, which offer them the chance to prosper.

We do this while you are at work, creating a better place for them, feeding them, housing them, and showing up. Nurturing them. Giving them the ability to have an education, earn a living, raise their families, to invest in their community, and to take over the responsibility of making this community a place where their children and grandchildren may thrive and be safe. 

We are a team, a community. If you live here, you play a very important part, no matter where you are in the cycle, or how deep your roots have grown here.

We are the government, we pay our taxes, we vote. That’s how communities function. If we stop, government services stop, communities fail. Please vote according to your responsibilities. My responsibility is to my God, my family, and my community. It will pinch tighter, but I will be voting yes on the levies. Yes, to providing our children the opportunities they need not to just survive but to thrive in this world and to have happy lives.

Tracey Johnson has been an employee of Flathead High School for 17 years and is an 18-year member of the community. These opinions are expressed as a community member, and not as a representative of Kalispell School District.

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