Manhattan School Board Trustees agreed Tuesday night to ask voters for two levies; one in the elementary district and another for the high school district.
Schools superintendent Jim Notaro said the levies are needed to keep the school operating at 100 percent of the budget. Though Manhattan schools are receiving more state money because enrollment is up, there is a still a gap between those funds and the funds needed to run the district on a 100 percent budget.
In the high school, Notaro recommended a levy of $23,705.72. That would cost a homeowner with a $200,000 market value house $.50 a month, or $6 a year.
Trustees will ask voters for $76,739.09 in the elementary district. Homeowners would pay $2.56 per month for that levy, or $30.80 per year for the same $200,000 market value home.
With the levy money, Notaro said he is looking at giving teachers a raise, improving school technology, upgrading curriculum materials and general building repairs.
“We need the budgeting authority to budget as much as we can to make sure those needs are met,” Notaro said.
Manhattan Elementary School Principal Scott Schumacher said he needs new books for his students.
“Last time I bought anything new was 2007-2008” he said. “We usually go on a five year cycle.”
Board Chairman Rob Brownell asked why Schumacher has not updated reading, math and language arts materials.
“We just have not had the money,” Schumacher said.
The school needs updated computers for the new federal tests being rolled out as part of the Common Core curriculum. The tests, known as the Smarter Balance Consortium Tests, will be administered exclusively by computer, even the in the elementary school.
The switch from bubble tests and pencils to keyboards and monitors will require significant computer upgrades, school officials said. If Manhattan voters approved the levies, the district could make the necessary technology improvements, Notaro said.
Notaro also said teachers should be rewarded for their hard work.
“I think it’s time to give our teachers a decent raise,” he said. “…Our teachers here have done an excellent job. Our kids have performed. We’re a Blue Ribbon school.”
When voters did not pass a mill levy in Manhattan last year, the district scrimped to get by.
“We’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Notaro said.
Certain programs demanded more funding than others. The hot lunch program has been steadily hemorrhaging money for the past year. With students opting for home-packed lunches, school lunch numbers have plummeted, costing the district nearly $20,000 a month.
More aides were also hired to help students with special needs. Nine part-time aides were hired to meet the need.
“We had to accommodate that and we’re glad to do it,” Notaro said. “But we’re taking money from one line item to spend it on another to keep the school going.”
Notaro also proposed starting a facilities planning committee to evaluate the needs of the school as enrollment continues to increase. The superintendent said he would like to be proactive about addressing the growth rather than scrambling for solutions when the buildings are completely out of space.
Mail-in ballots will be sent to voters in mid-April. They must be returned to the Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder on May 6. Notaro encourages anyone with questions about the levy or the desire to serve on the facilities committee to contact him via email or telephone.