Bozeman Public Schools are engaged in planning for the 2011-12 school year while continuing to focus on educational programming opportunities for our students this spring. Every spring our organization assesses needs and begins to put together resources that will be required to meet the needs in the next school year. This is a part of our Long Range Strategic Plan.

Every other year, the Legislature is in session and the decisions in Helena impact our access to resources. We work diligently to review bills, their effect on our schools and impact on development of resources aligned to our student needs.

No K-12 school funding bills have passed the Legislature at this point. As it currently sits, our schools face a $2.1 million shortfall for next year, created by the difference between current law state allocations to schools and the "budget needed to maintain" current operations. Current state basic and per student allocations will be reduced by 2 percent and the $10 million in At-Risk funding that was cut from the state budget the last biennium has not been added back. The "budget needed to maintain" current operations includes inflationary increases, staffing for an anticipated 150 more students to be served next year, and one-time funds being exhausted and no longer available.

The district budget committee, consisting of staff and community members, has been working on recommendations to close the shortfall so the board of trustees can consider the options in late March and April. We are doing this work in order to balance next year's budget. While many changes are still likely to occur with our funding picture, we need to meet the legal deadlines to inform staff of their renewal and set levy amounts for the May 3 school election.

At this time of year, the community asks what they can do to understand this and to assist in the process. The community can assist in two ways: first, by contacting legislators, and second, by voting at the school election in May. First, the Legislature will be considering bill(s) to fund K-12 education before they leave Helena. When the bills are known, the impact on our schools will be determined and shared with the community. Community action to contact legislators on what they believe about the bill(s) will have an effect on the outcome. An example is SB 403. This bill, which was heard in the Senate Education Committee last week, would provide Bozeman Schools with about $680,000 in state funds, reducing the described shortfall from $2.1 million to $1.4 million (that's a big deal for programming and staffing).

Second, the school election will take place on Tuesday, May 3. We will provide our community with the facts about the school election so voters can make decisions. Local voter approval is required to achieve the maximum budget allowable under the law. This vote from our community allows schools to fully use the funds from the state by matching a portion of the state dollars with local dollars. We will use our webpage, www.bsd7.org, the news media and community meetings to keep our community informed.

So, to answer the question, "What can I do?", please contact legislators to give them your opinion on investing in our children's education, and plan to cast your vote in the May school election. What I have grown to appreciate about our community is that they care about education, the opportunity it provides for economic development in our region, and the pathway it paves for our students' success in the future.

Contact me at 522-6001 if you have questions or thoughts about our schools. Thanks for reading.

Kirk J. Miller, Ed.D. is superintendent of Bozeman Public Schools.