Bozeman schools are planning for an uncertain future. With state lawmakers still in session, and a sharp rift between the GOP-controlled Legislature and a Democratic governor, it's just about anybody's bet what level of school funding will emerge.

But plan for the future they must. And as part of that, school officials are asking voters to approve a pair of modest school levies that could actually result in a tax decrease for many property owners.

We urge voters to approve those levies. School officials have done a good job justifying the need for the tax, although we do have some concerns.

Bozeman School District voters have been generous historically. But district educators and administrators are cautioned not to take that for granted. There are some strong taxpayer sentiments rising up around the country. And those feelings are being directed at public employees unions - including teachers' unions - in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.

Citizens are cognizant that teachers earn a good living at what they do - with three months off every year. According to the district, the average teacher in Bozeman earns $52,490 each year, $69,490 when benefits are included. Most teachers, too, enjoy job protection - tenure - that pretty much ensures their continued employment despite any turmoil in the economy. And many perceive that tenure protects teachers' jobs, despite any failings in the classroom.

Those who work in the private sector don't have those luxuries. The ongoing economic recovery remains fragile. Many are still out of work or underemployed and getting by on a fraction of what they're used to.

When the schools and teachers begin bargaining next week for a new contract, all parties involved need to be aware of that and exercise maximum restraint when it comes to pay increases. The pay matrix that governs teacher pay rates virtually ensures a roughly 2 percent raise for teachers who have completed another year of service. That is a generous increase in this economy. Pay increases beyond that will be perceived by many to be extravagant, and rightfully so.

Retaining and recruiting quality teachers is indeed crucial, as district officials argue, but those officials - and teachers - must remain mindful of the economic reality and that applications for open teaching positions have about tripled in recent years.

Yes, taxes would go down if these levies pass, but they would go down even more without it. In fact, the main reason taxes are going down is due to a retiring levy that voters passed to help fund the Hyalite Elementary School - with the expectation that the tax hike was temporary.

Absentee ballots are in the mail. And voters should approve the levies on those ballots.

But educators and school administrators should repay that generosity with a renewed show of restraint and accountability.


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