School district facing additional budget cuts
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
Ten percent state budget cuts are hanging over every public entity which relies on state funding, but for Glendive Public Schools, the pending state funding reductions are a double-whammy coming on the heels of a 5 percent reduction in state funding support already imposed on local school districts by the Montana Office of Public Instruction earlier this summer.
The school district is only a couple of months removed from the previous cut in their state funding support, announced by OPI during the summer in response to lower than anticipated state revenues coming out of the 2017 legislative session. Those previous cuts left a $48,068 hole in the Glendive Elementary District’s budget and a $14,668 hole in the high school district’s budget which school administrators already had to work hard to backfill.
Now they’re faced with the spectre of even less funding coming out of Helena. And with their budget for this academic year already set, district leaders are faced with the unwelcome task of trying to plug even more unanticipated budget holes.
“They already told us we’re going to have holes in our budget ... and now we’re going to have a bigger hole,” said district Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis.
As of right now, district administrators and board members have no idea just how big a hole they’re going to be faced with.
“We have no idea what’s going to come our way,” Schreibeis said. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like. I really don’t know how it’s going to affect us.”
They do know, however, that more cuts in state funding support are coming. Schreibeis received a letter from OPI on Monday outlining where the agency thinks it can make the 10 percent budget cuts Gov. Steve Bullock has asked nearly every state agency to submit to try and balance out the state’s budget.
OPI is proposing to partly make up the cuts through reductions in spending to support its own operations, including implementing a hiring freeze. However, the agency also identified $30 million in annual direct aid to local school districts as another potential target for cuts. Exactly how deep those cuts will be remain a mystery at present, but OPI’s letter did warn that “The impact of this reduction will be severe as the districts have already budgeted this amount and cannot replace this money from any other source.”
Schreibeis said as of now — and especially not knowing how much of a state funding support cut they’re going to be facing — it’s difficult to say just how the school district will deal with it. He mentioned possibly dipping into the district’s reserve funds to fill the gap, though he quickly added that would be something the district would hope to avoid if at all possible.
Going to the voters to ask that they make up any state funding shortfall with additional local mill levies is something else the district is not necessarily keen to do either, and may not even be an option, as Schreibeis pointed to the line in the OPI letter about local districts not being able to replace the state funding cuts “from any other source.”
Right now, Schreibeis said all he and other school leaders have are more questions than answers.
Asked if he is fearful further state funding cuts might lead to some very painful decisions — like cutting staff or even athletic/extracurricular programs — Schreibeis said that without knowing more than he does right now, all he can really do is try to stay positive.
“You gotta focus on things you can control, and these budget cuts are obviously things we can’t control,” he said.
Schreibeis added that one thing he is absolutely confident in is that no matter how deep the cuts, Glendive students will still get a quality education. That’s because of Glendive’s teachers, Schreibeis said. He said he is confident they could deliver a great education to local students even if there was nothing left in the classroom but the teacher and the students sitting around on the floor.
“I do know that we have the educators in the district to deal with tough times like this, and that I’m happy about,” Schreibeis said. “By having quality educators, education’s going to happen regardless. We’ll be able to deal with it because of the quality of our educators and staff members.”
Whatever happens, Schreibeis said he is confident the district can weather the storm, adding it would be easy to panic, but that it’s hard to even panic when you don’t know yet what you might have to be panicked about.
“I guess you always are fearful of where it’s going, but it’s hard to be fearful of something you don’t know what it is yet,” Schreibeis said. “It’s not fun to deal with tough times like this, but we’ll get it figured out.”
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.