STAGE AREA — From a seating area, this view shows an updated version of the remodeling of the old high gym into a new functioning auditorium. To the center left, is a control panel for lighting and sound from the stage. The make-over of the new auditorium is moving along at a rapid pace. I-O Photo by Barb Endler
By Adam Jerome, I-O Reporter
On Jan. 5 the Dutton/Brady land-transfer issue came to a head when three County Superintendents ruled on the proposed transfer of land from the Dutton/Brady school district to the Conrad School district.
With a majority rule, the land-transfer was denied. Diane Inbody, Teton County Superintendent and Rachel Vielleux, Missoula County Superintendent voted against the proposal. Jo Stone, Pondera County Superintendent was the dissenting vote.
On March 23, Brady petitioners filed an appeal with the Ninth District Court, ruled by Judge Laurie McKinnon.
The petitioners appealing the decision believe that the two ruling superintendents only factored in the tax burden to the Dutton/Brady district if the petition went through.
The former Brady residents believe the superintendents should have given more consideration to student opportunity and safety.
According to the Montana Code Annotated 2009, County Superintendents must take into account numerous factors before making a decision.
Some of these factors include, the educational opportunity for the students in the receiving and transferring districts: including but not limited to; class size, local control, parental involvement and the capability of the receiving district to provide services.
A second factor involves student transportation, including but not limited to: safety, cost and travel time of students.
The third and final factor deals with school funding, including the existence of a significant burden on the district from which the territory will be transferred and the ability of the receiving district and the transferring district to maintain sufficient reserves.
The petitioners believe they have a valid case because the student factors such as opportunity and travel favor their cause, while only the economic factors favor the Dutton/Brady district.
According to the petitioner’s attorney Daniel Jones, “We are appealing because a majority of the ruling superintendents only took into account the tax burden of the Dutton/Brady tax payers, while disregarding any benefits realized by the parents and students.”
He goes on to add, “My clients just want a right to governance of the schools in which their children attend.”
As it presently stands there are 39 school age students in the petitioned district, 30 of which attend school in Conrad. The parents of these 30 students do not have a voice in the Conrad School District because their tax dollars go to another district.
Transportation safety is another area of concern for these parents. School buses are not presently allowed to cross into other districts to bus students, so these kids must find another way to school. The school bus has long been considered the safest mode of transportation for students.
Conrad Superintendent Lynn Utterback released a statement on behalf of the Conrad School Board participating in the appeal process, “We wish for Conrad Schools a greater flexibility and opportunity in planning and providing safe transportation for our children in their travels to school. We would also like to see parents be able to fully participate in their children’s education. Finally we would like to see a fair distribution of the cost of educating students throughout the districts. The Conrad School District supports these families in their concerns.”
There are a lot of different tax numbers out there to support each argument, but for the purposes of this article let’s use the numbers found in the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Order from the original case.
The current taxable value of Dutton/Brady is $5.42 million. The taxable value of the petitioned territory is $2.35 million.
The approved transfer would reduce the Dutton/Brady taxable value by over 43 percent.
The transfer would increase a Dutton/Brady landowner’s school taxes by 50 percent.
The current taxable value of Conrad High School is $7.17 million; the current taxable value of Conrad Elementary is $6.87 million. The transfer if approved would increase the high school value by 33 percent and the elementary value by 34 percent.
The transfer would decrease school taxes on current Conrad Schools residents by 14 percent. If the transfer were approved the taxes in the petitioning district would increase by 24 percent.
That being said even if the transfer were approved a Conrad resident would still pay higher taxes than the Dutton/Brady taxpayer, but the disparity in taxes would shrink. This does not include the gym bond taxes in Conrad.
Keep watching the I-O for more information regarding the appeal, including date and time of trial.