Three School Levies to Head to Columbia Falls Voters  

The Columbia Falls School District hopes voters will green-light three levies that are set to plug holes in the district budget and fund the replacement of a decaying roof at the high school

By Denali Sagner
Buses are parked at Columbia Falls High School on Aug. 26, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Columbia Falls School District is asking voters to approve three levies that will bolster the district’s operating budget and pay for the replacement of a failing roof at Columbia Falls High School.

Voters will decide whether or not to approve a $430,667 elementary operating levy, a $157,463 high school operating levy and a two-year building reserve levy, which will cost $1.375 million per year.

For a home with a taxable value of $300,000, the three levies will cost a total of $122.49 per year.

According to Columbia Falls Superintendent Cory Dziowgo, the school district found problems with its roof during a ventilation project last August. When construction crews set out to install ventilation handlers, they found extensive water damage and segments where they could easily cut through the roof. A heat map and other investigations found damage that needed replacement.

“That roof is at its end of life,” Dziowgo said.

The roof was last replaced in 2010. Columbia Falls High School was constructed in 1958.

In order to address safety concerns, the district is asking voters to approve a two-year building reserve levy that will fund the roof replacement. Until the roof is repaired, the planned ventilation project, which was funded through federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars that expire this fall, is on hold.

Dziowgo said that the school board has been deliberate in proposing a levy that will fund the roof replacement while not adding any enhancements or improvements.

“Roof off, roof on,” the superintendent said.

If the building reserve levy passes, construction will begin this spring and will likely be completed by the beginning of the next school year. Without a roof replacement, the district will likely have to abandon the ventilation project and the federal dollars that funded it.

In addition to the building reserve levy, the district is hopeful that voters will approve two general operating levies that would fill holes in the district’s budget.

Like schools across the state, the Columbia Falls School District is facing a major budget deficit due to inflation, a lack of funding from the state and the expiration of federal pandemic assistance dollars.

Columbia Falls’ budget for the 2024-25 school year is projected to fall short by $644,246, or 3.5% of the district’s general fund operating budget. District Clerk Dustin Zuffelato earlier this month called the budget projections “dismal.”

“Those deficits are enough to change the way we have to do things around here,” Dziowgo said.

The district has not run an operational levy since 2014, when voters narrowly approved a request at $478,984. Dziowgo said that the district rarely goes to the community with levy requests, and that he hopes Columbia Falls recognizes the district’s need come May.

“C-Falls always steps up to help anybody around them,” the superintendent said. “I wouldn’t expect any different with rallying around the school and helping with the needs of our kids.”

Zuffelato, the district clerk, added that the school district has worked to leverage federal funding and community partnerships when possible. The district currently works with partners such as the National Park Service, Logan Health and Pursuit to offer innovative educational programs.

“We do have long range hopes and aspirations that we can bring all of that community support together,” Zuffelato said.

Ballots will be sent out on April 19 and are due on May 7.

More information can be found here.

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