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School district superintendents in southern Montana weigh in after voters reject their budget asks

interior of a traditional school classroom with wooden floor and furniture. 3d render
tiero/Getty Images/iStockphoto
interior of a traditional school classroom with wooden floor and furniture. 3d render

School districts big and small across southern Montana are emerging from this week’s school elections with the same budgets they entered with.

The Three Forks School District in Gallatin County received a blow to its operating budget Tuesday night for the third time in three years. According to unofficial election results, proposed high school and elementary school levies failed with 65 percent of voters turning them down.

“Very disappointed,” said Three Forks Superintendent Rhonda Uthlaut.

She said the mill levies would have equaled just over $680,000 or $139 a year for a home valued at $300,000. She said it’s been about seven years since voters approved a mill levy, and the district is in a tight spot.

“We’ve trimmed everything that we have felt like we could without making major cuts and that’s where we’re at now. We’ll be having to do the major cuts,” said Uthlaut.

She said the school district will look at decreasing travel costs and other expenses in their athletics program, cutting extra help for failing students and increasing class sizes.

In Belgrade, a more-than $60 million bond to build a fourth elementary school and renovate their aging middle school building failed.

Belgrade School District Superintendent Dede Frothingham said she’ll deliberate with the school board and the community before they decide on next steps.

“There hasn’t been a lot of question about whether the need is there, but the conversation [is] about the impact on families and their ability to live in the valley when housing is so expensive,” said Frothingham. "And then of course property taxes went up so much."

Further east, Billings Public Schools lost a bid for high school and elementary school safety levies with 63 percent of voters against.

According to the district, the levies would have built out counseling and gang prevention programs and paid for more positions, including nurses and drop-out prevention specialists. The levies would have raised roughly $5 million and cost around $60 annually for a home valued at $300,000.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.