Trustee Q&A and levies
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it might be how important boards are to communities. Madison County residents have school board trustees to elect and levies to consider. Ballots will be mailed to residents on April 16. Below, find a question-and-answer segment with the eight trustee candidates, a brief explanation of school budget as it relates to the ballot initiatives and what changes taxpayers can expect if the levies pass.
Ballots must be received by the Madison County election office by May 4 at 8 p.m. They cannot only be postmarked by this date.
Ennis School District: two, three-year positions open
What prompted you to file for a school board position? I want to ensure that our youth is given a traditional education based on proper, not revisionist history. Math that is true to form, and science free of radical agendas. I want to bring back normalcy to the school year.
What do you bring to the table? I have not worked in the education system, but I value the education I received. I was taught to think for myself, to do my own research and come to my own conclusions. Before moving to Montana, I was responsible for keeping bid jobs on track. I will bring fiscal responsibility to the table, emphasize school safety and ensure a drug-free stance is taken.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? Fiscal responsibility. Also, to ensure a safe and effective learning space for the students.
What prompted you to file for a school board position? I’m running because I have three grandchildren in the school now and three to follow.
What do you bring to the table? I bring to the table life skills. I’ve been in sales for 42 years and can work with people.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? The two biggest responsibilities of a school board in my opinion are safety of the kids and a quality education. From what I see around the country, education seems to be taking a back seat to ideological issues.
What prompted you to file for a school board position? As a mental health therapist, I have dedicated my career to supporting and advocating for kids and families. I’m a 4th generation Madison Valley resident and have two young kids in this district.
What do you bring to the table? I have a master’s degree in education and have spent over six years working in the public-school setting as a school counselor. I am a small business owner and have worked hard to grow my practice and increase profitability while providing exemplary mental health services to our community.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? The primary role of a trustee is to help develop policies and procedures that provide for an effective and supportive learning and working environment for children, teachers and staff.
Burleigh C.W. Leonard
What prompted you to file for a school board position? While coaching Ennis’ 6th grade girls’ basketball team, I was impressed by the kids I met. They were well-mannered and eager to learn. They are a real asset for the community, and I want to help protect and nurture them.
What do you bring to the table? After getting my teaching certification in college, I taught 7th and 8th grade English and coached soccer at the high school level for two years. I also have extensive experience in the development of public policy as a staffer on Capitol Hill and an aide to President Reagan.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? We need to act on the long-term strategic plan that has been developed for the Ennis public schools over the last few years. It is ambitious in scope and worthy of our best efforts to implement.
What prompted you to file for a school board position? My kids! As a father of two children in the Ennis School system (ESS), I have a significant interest in their continued growth, development and wellbeing. If elected, I will strive for ESS to be the best in the state for academic achievement and safety.
What do you bring to the table? I have a proven record of integrity as an Eagle Scout and Student Excellence Award recipient from MSU— Northern. I’m an engineer in my professional life. I’ve overseen several multimillion-dollar construction projects that required oversight of schedules, budgets and risk mitigation assessments. It would be a privilege to share my expertise with the board as they navigate the school expansion initiative and other challenges.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? I believe the school board’s biggest responsibility is ensuring our youth receive the best education possible.
Sheridan School Board: two, three-year positions open, Sheridan positions
What prompted you to file for a school board position? Education should be student centered. As the parent of children in the school district, I have a vested interest in students receiving the best education possible. Being on the school board would give me the opportunity to be a voice for students and parents while providing transparency and accessibility to our community.
What do you bring to the table? I volunteered at Sheridan High School where I mentored students in college preparation and helped teach computer programming. I have also taught adult classes in finance and technology and served as president of the GRVCCA.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? Advocating for education. Parents, students, teachers and faculty all play important roles in our schools. The board should balance priorities without losing sight of the main goal—to provide an excellent education for all students.
What prompted you to file for a school board position? As an alum of SHS I take pride in the community I grew up in and the education I received. I want to do my part to ensure that that legacy that is so important to me and others in the Ruby Valley continues.
What do you bring to the table? I have attended meetings and love to research the “why” behind rules and regulations to understand how the system works; things aren’t cut and dry. I enjoy listening to differing ideas and opinions to collaborate to meet a common goal.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? The board’s biggest responsibility is to manage the expectations of parents with the realities of teachers while being fiscally responsible and keeping kids’ futures priority. I think it’s important that the board represents the ideas of the community as a whole.
What prompted you to file for a school board position? Everyone has a responsibility to be active in their community. This is my way of giving back and becoming involved. I am a SHS graduate and want to help students succeed. I have been to several school board meetings and am interested in learning more to educate myself to become a stronger member.
What do you bring to the table? I was committee chair of my sons’ Boy Scout Troop when we lived in Colorado. In this position, I provided leadership and ensured the committee was functioning properly.
What do you think is a school board’s biggest responsibility? The school board helps obtain any and all resources to serve our students. This doesn’t just pertain to academics. School is so much more than that. We need to give students the tools needed to provide them with the best possible experiences and outcomes!
Positions to be filled by acclamation, non-contested:
Harrison School District
Ann Hokanson: one, three-year term
Twin Bridges School District
Steve Janzen: one, three-year term
Alexis Sandru: one, three-year term
Sheridan School District
V. Bronwen Pfau: one, two-year term, Alder position
Cory Rowberry: one, three-year term, Alder position
Alder School District
James A. McDonald: one, three-year position
Twin Bridges, Sheridan Elementary and Ennis School Districts have general fund levies on the ballots this year. Money from the general fund is used for teaching supplies, staff salaries and staff benefits, among other things, to operate the school district. Madison County Superintendent Pam Birkeland explained that generally districts spend between 80-82% of the general fund on salaries and benefits.
The general fund is funded by state aid that is determined per district by the Average Number of Belonging (ANB), as well as other revenues including state entitlement payments for Quality Educator, Indian Education for all, At-Risk Students, American Indian Gap, Data for Achievement and Special Education, as well as school taxes paid by taxpayers residing within the district.
Districts receive a preliminary budget from the state that designates the BASE budget, which is the least amount a district may budget to operate a school. Property taxes from homes within districts are used to supplement the BASE budget. Additional local taxes result in the over-BASE budget, which allows for the highest budget without needing to ask voters to approve. The highest total budget is reached by requesting taxpayers to approve voted general fund levies.
“If school districts are doing a voted levy, they are asking the taxpayers for an amount of money to help them get to their highest budget authority that they could have,” Birkeland said. General fund levies are requested on a peryear basis. Districts may decide to not run a voted levy one year if they did another.
Alder School District has a building reserve levy on the ballots. The building reserve is used for items related to building repair, equipping buildings, construction of new buildings or buying land for expansion if needed. This is separate from the general fund—building reserve funds can only be used for things specific to the building reserve.
A mill is calculated by taking the taxable value for a district and multiplying it by 0.0001. This calculation is used to determine taxes for the local taxpayer on a given sum of money. If passed, taxpayers are agreeing to pay the taxes to provide to the district with the additional funds to reach their highest budget authority.
For example, if a district’s taxable value was $5 million, a mill would be worth $5,000. If a district was running a voted general fund levy to raise an additional $30,000, that amount would be divided by the cost of 1 mill, $5,000 in this case. The district would require six mills to raise those funds. The hypothetical district would ask taxpayers to pay a calculated amount to raise the funds through the voted levy to reach the highest budget.
Mills are dictated by taxable value. Districts with a lower taxable value will have higher mills, and when asked in the form of a levy, will likely cost taxpayers more. Using the amount of funds requested, the number of mills are based on taxable value and by applying them to the market value of homes in the $100,000 and $200,000 categories, the amount of tax per property owner are determined.
If the levies pass, the amount of money that districts are asking for will be added to the overall general fund budget (Ennis, Sheridan Elementary and Twin Bridges) or the building reserve fund (Alder) for the upcoming school year.
Twin Bridges School District, general fund levy
Taxable value: $4,475,458
Voted levy amount: $15,099.76
Tax change for a $100,000 home: $4.55/year
Tax change for a $200,000 home: $9.11/year
Sheridan School District, elementary general fund levy
Taxable value: $4,469,058 (elementary)
Voted levy amount: $30,935
Tax change for a $100,000 home: $9.34/year
Tax change for a $200,000 home: 18.68/year
Ennis School District, general fund levy
Taxable value: $143,637,070
Voted levy amount: $41,263.79
Tax change for a $100,000 home: $0.39/year
Tax change for a $200,000 home: $0.78/year
Alder School District, building reserve levy
Taxable value: $3,075,862
Voted levy amount: $5,000/year, each year, for the next five years; $25,000 added to the building reserve over five years
Tax change for a $100,000 home: $2.39/year
Tax change for a $200,000 home: $4.39/year
Immense gratitude to Pam Birkeland, Casey Klasna and Ginger Martello for checking the accuracy of the budget/general fund/levy/ mill information.