Continuing ed, new building and school budget discussed

The Ennis Continuing Education program has an approved budget and the blessings of the Ennis School Board.

At last week’s regular Ennis School Board meeting, continuing education coordinators Jon Goodman and Toni Fanning updated the board on the progress of the program. The coordinators also presented the board with a budget of about $50,000 to operate the expanded program.

The budget included teacher wages, material costs and coordinator salaries. The money for the program will come out of the adult education fund.

Goodman explained that the continuing education program is wrapping up the winter slate of classes and preparing for spring classes. Winter classes represented an expansion from the regular adult education program previously offered at the Ennis School District and that expansion will continue into the spring, he said.

Goodman and Fanning have collected and synthesized hundreds of surveys from community members and businesses about what sort of classes they’d like to see offered. These surveys have provided a basis for the spring course schedule, which will include classes on horse packing, QuickBooks, computers and backcountry first aid.

The pair of coordinators also requested the board increase their monthly hour cap from 80 to 120 hours.

“Now that we’ve done this for a few months, the more realistic cap is 120 hours, rather than 80,” Goodman said.

In January, the pair of coordinators spent about 120 hours organizing the program and getting classes going. However, in February their hourly total was much less, as classes were underway, he said.

Both Goodman and Fanning are paid $20 an hour for their work and though the school board originally capped their combined monthly hours at 80, it turns out that getting the continuing education program going takes more time, Goodman said.

The board approved the hourly cap request and the budget and voiced their pleasure at how the community has responded to the program.

“The number of people involved in the program has sky rocketed,” said board member Brett Owens.

However, Lisa Frye, who has filed to run for Owen’s seat on the school board in the May election, was concerned about the future of the program and the money to operate it.

In the past the state has had a cap on the number of mills school districts can levy for adult education. That cap is gone now, but Frye was concerned it could come back.

“My concern is if the money goes away, where does that leave the program?” she asked.

The logical place to make up any future shortfalls in money would be through student fees, Goodman said. Currently, the Ennis Continuing Education Program only charges a small fee, about $10 per class (some classes have no charge and some have more to pay for materials).

However, similar classes in Butte and Bozeman charge over $100, he said.

For the winter session, more than 200 people signed up for classes and Goodman is optimistic that trend will continue as the program continues to offer a more diverse range of classes and more people in the county find out about it.

Goodman also informed the board that the continuing education program’s website would be set to launch soon. The website would offer people another avenue for course information and registration.

In other school board news, superintendent Doug Walsh discussed potential budget shortfalls for the coming school year, which begins July 1. Under the current legislation, Ennis Schools could be short between about $55,000 and $130,000. The final numbers won’t be set until the legislature passes the bill to fund schools, which is currently working it’s way through the House, Walsh said.

“That’s kind of where we’re going at this point,” he said.

The board passed a resolution allowing them to run two mill levies in May if necessary.

The plan now is to run a $60,000 building reserve levy on the May 3 ballot, said district clerk Ginger Martello after the meeting.

That will equal about 1 mill and replace the ongoing building reserve levy that has been in place for five years, Martello said.

Currently there is no plan to run a general fund mill levy on the May 3 ballot, but with the resolution passed last week, the board still has that option should something change at the legislature, she said. The ballot must be set by April 8.

The school board also has the option of waiting to run a mill levy until after May 3 in a special election, Martello said.

At last week’s meeting Walsh also presented a construction update on the new school building.

After some delays with concrete in the new building, everything is back on track to have classes in the new school by the beginning of the year, he said. Once the old school is emptied, an asbestos removal crew will clean out the old building and then demolition will begin after school ends this spring. The next phase of construction, which will be the junior high building, will start this summer.

Ennis resident Mariah Oliver also spoke to the board about a new group she is helping to organize that will provide teachers with a pool of parents to be classroom volunteers.

The idea is to find more ways for parents and community members to get involved in the classroom and in their child’s education, Oliver said.

Ennis K-8 principal Brian Hilton is very supportive of the effort and told the board it will be a great resource for teachers.

The hope is that teachers with specific classroom projects or volunteer needs, will contact Hilton or the volunteer group directly, Oliver said.

The group is also looking to draw on the expertise of community members for the benefit of students, she said.

The next school board meeting is slated for April 13 at 4 p.m.

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