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Education fix won't go far says Maki

| December 22, 2005 11:00 PM

The more than $600,000 in additional funds the Libby School District is expected to receive next year following a special legislative session won't go very far, according to district superintendent Kirby Maki.

"It's a lot of money, but it's amazing just how quickly it goes," Maki said.

The district is set to receive around $340,000 in additional "ongoing" funds, representing a 4-percent increase for the current $7.75 million general fund budget, along with a $291,000 one-time allocation for maintenance and weatherization. Of the $340,000, $227,000 would be relatively unrestricted in the form of a $2,000 boost per educator. The rest, including $76,000 for at-risk students, $6,600 for Indian students and $29,437 to set up an Indian education curriculum, is expected be restricted to certain uses.

"I think the state's going to say, 'Show us how you spent the money; show us what you did,'" Maki said. "You can't just say, 'We spent it all on the teachers.' That doesn't go very far."

After a four-year contract expired last year, the district's teachers agreed only to a one-year contract that included a 5-percent raise. During negotiations, the teachers were seeking a three-year contract with 5-percent raises in each of the first two years and an 8-percent raise in the third year. The $227,000 increase probably wouldn't be enough to cover a 5-percent raise, Maki said.

While the money was allocated on a per-educator basis, the district isn't required to spend the money on raises, Maki said.

"It doesn't mean that everybody is going to get $2,000," he said. "It's going to be up to the school board as to how they're going to spend that money."

The $291,000 for weatherization and maintenance won't last long either, Maki said. Needed roof and heating system repairs at the middle school "would take a major chunk," Maki said, and the district is also facing increasing maintenance bills at Asa Wood Elementary. Dating to 1950, it's the district's oldest school building, Maki said.

The Montana Quality Education Coalition, which filed a lawsuit against the state that led to a court decision that school funding was inadequate, is expected to decide in the near future on whether or not to continue its challenge in the aftermath of the special session. Maki expressed concerns about the long-term viability of the new funding plan without tax increases or restructuring.

"Right now they've taken surplus money and pumped it into it, but you can't tell me you're not going to have to have revenues generated," he said.