Land transfer issue taking next step

By Adam Jerome, I-O Reporter

With the passage of House Bill 488 the next step in the possible Dutton/Brady transfer is about to take shape.

Last Spring HB-488 was passed to allow residents of the old Brady School District (and other similar districts) to petition their land out of the Brady/Dutton School District under the laws that were in place when they consolidated.

Since the bill’s passage, Brady residents began to circulate a petition to leave the Dutton/Brady District in favor of the Conrad School District.

In order to move to a public hearing the land owners in the old Brady School district needed a Supermajority of 60 percent of the qualified voters.

It is important to note that the petitioned land will not exactly be the old Brady district.  Instead it will encompass all of the land other than a three mile radius around the Midway Colony School.  This was done, because the law states that land may not be petitioned within three miles of a functioning school.

The contested land contains 282 qualified voters.  The petitioners gained 66 percent of the voters to move to the next step.  The 66 percent is also a little misleading as only 20 voters declined to sign the petition, the rest of the 34 percent not included were not able to be reached, because they do not live in the area anymore.

One of the petitioners’ attorneys is Daniel Jones with Jardine, Stephenson, Blewett & Weaver out of Great Falls.  Jones is also the son of Rep. Llew Jones who introduced HB-488 during the 2009 legislation.

D. Jones has been working on the issue since October when his firm was approached by the Brady land owners.

As it stands now, there are 36 school age children in the contested district, 26 of which already attend school in Conrad.

Jones commented on the issue, “The Brady residents want an opportunity to be on the board and have their taxes follow the school in which their children attend.”

In a school board meeting in Conrad on Nov. 10, the board voted unanimously to accept the petitioned land.

Conrad Superintendent Lynn Utterback commented, “The Conrad school system did not initiate and by law cannot initiate the petition, but we would support the transfer if it goes through.”

He went on to add, “We all ready have a majority of the kids in the Conrad schools, so it would be nice to have the tax dollars to support them.”

Brady land owner Cynthia Johnson continues the sentiment, “We own a farm 45 miles from where our taxes go.  The kids out there have always gone to school in Conrad and we would like to have a say in their education and want our taxes to go to the school that educates our children.”

One question that has been asked is if the land transferred involves the new gym in Conrad.  Are the people from the petitioned district responsible for a share of the cost?

The answer in short is no.  The gym levy was attached to the property that was in the district at the time when the levy was passed.

They would though be responsible for their share of other educational costs going forward.

When approached with the issue the Dutton/Brady School Board tabled the issue on Nov. 17.

The next step in the process is a public hearing on Jan. 5, 2010.  The hearing will be presided over by Pondera County Superintendent Jo Stone, Teton County Superintendent Diane Inbody, and Missoula County Superintendent Rachel Vielleux with a majority decision deciding the hearing.  The hearing will take place at the Pondera County Court House.

The reason for Vielleux’s involvement is because the law stipulates that when two counties are involved in transfer issues they must choose a third superintendent to be a member of the hearing panel.

While any decision will be subject to the appeals process it will be very difficult to overturn.

Editor’s Note: The I-O will have further information available after the Jan. 5 hearing.