I was really very saddened to hear our Helena School District Superintendent inform us the other night that all maintenance funds for our schools are levied. That means they are being paid for out of bond money not out of the general fund. In other words, the school district spends so irresponsibly that they have no money left for a maintenance fund. Our school monies are being spent so irresponsibly that they don't even put money aside for basic maintenance like roofs and boilers. Money has to be borrowed to cover those things.
This was a steering committee meeting for the new bond they are planning for. One of the steering committee members brought up a good point. His point was that with all the growth in the valley our school budgets have doubled so why can't they even plan for maintenance? I did not hear an answer to this question, but I started thinking about some of the huge new budget items the district has taken on since I started teaching in 1975. Before I get into that I would like to note that in spite of the growth in our valley our schools have been experiencing declines in enrollment especially at the elementary level. Data from the Dodge report that said school enrollment would explode in 2011 never materialized. Our superintendent thinks this is because the economy is so poor that people are leaving Helena. Can you believe that our school district is taking on a big new bond project and paying a firm $250,000.00 of borrowed money, while the enrollment is dropping due to people having to leave town to find work?Where is the concern for the taxpayer here?
But on to all the new expense. When I started with the school district in 1975 we had 13 elementary schools not 11. If you needed a bus for a field trip you had to apply and you didn't always get it. Our district now busses children almost constantly and has just put in a very expensive bid for new busses with seat belts, when our busses are perfectly safe without them. Where are the children bussed? Well, high school kids are bussed EVERY week to EVERY elementary school so they can eat lunch with elementary kids (Big Brother Big Sister program). I don't know if Big Brothers Big Sisters picks up any of this cost. Then there's all the buddy programs. Middle school kids get bussed to elementary schools and elementary kids come back and this goes on with the high schools too. Peak kids get bussed to and from Peak every week (gifted and talented teachers used to come to the schools). This doesn't even approach all the Head Start bussing that goes on (this is door to door). Two of our elementary schools are now used for special programs. Lincoln has PAL (the alternative high school). This program which uses a school and has its own administrator, plus teachers, was supposed to help with drop out rates. But drop out rates have increased not decreased. They were 25% at Helena High last year ( before PAL they were about %17). Ray Bjork is filled with PEAK , Head Start, and the Special Ed. Preschool. Another building with teachers and an administrator that houses programs. We also have Head Start housed at Rossiter and Bryant. Who pays for all of this?
This list goes on. We are now housing Youth Connections as well and they had 4 new guidance counselors last year. Who pays for that? They also have counselors in kindergarten classrooms modifying behaviors. Their grant runs out in 2013 and they hope to be fully integrated into the schools by then. Do you think it's a conflict of interest that our board chair is state director of the umbrella organization for Youth Connections and Head Start? I do. How much of the daycare business and food business do our schools pick up? Every kid at Bryant gets free breakfast, lunch and snacks. I know the district picks up the tab for the kids that don't qualify for free food at the end of the year. All kids in the district are getting free breakfast on CRT testing days now. Sack lunches from Food Share are sent home on the weekends too. In the summer all kids under 18 get free lunch. Daycares bring their kids to the park to take advantage of free lunches . This is not because kids are starving, it's because it's free. All these programs have not moved student achievement one inch since the 70's. In other words, when I came to the district in 1975 we were doing as good, or in some cases a better job, and we didn't have all these programs. Does anyone want to address this fact?!!
A school board trustee told me last night that maybe I just didn't like change. Well I'd like some change from this fiasco that's for sure! Let's start with leaving kids in class and letting teachers teach. Next let's get the Federal Government out of our schools so that teaching can happen instead of federally supported programs. Let's just try it and then see what happens to our scores. I'll bet we'd find our money and be able to fix a roof without using borrowed money too!