By Kristen Cates, Great Falls Tribune
After more than a year and a half, the Montana Supreme Court has put an end to the argument over which school district Brady residents should belong to.
In a ruling issued June 28, the Supreme Court upheld decisions made previously by a panel of county superintendents and a district court judge to not allow Brady residents to transfer their property taxes from the Dutton-Brady School District and join the Conrad School District.
“I think it’s a done issue,” said Michael Dahlem, attorney for the Conrad Public Schools. “We were sort of in an uphill battle all the way.”
D.K. Brooks, Superintendent for Dutton-Brady Schools, said he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“We’re happy that it has come to a conclusion,” he said.
Back in 2005, Dutton and Brady school districts consolidated as enrollment in both districts declined. But property owners in Brady claimed that in 2010, because most of their 36 children had already transferred to Conrad schools, their property tax dollars should be going there as well.
But Dutton residents would have been facing 50 percent tax increases if Brady were allowed to merge with Conrad.
The original petition to a three-person panel of county superintendents resulted in a 2-1 agreement that Brady should stay with the Dutton school district.
The petitioners then appealed to a District Court judge, who upheld the decision of the superintendents’ panel.
Finally, the Conrad School district appealed that decision to the Montana Supreme Court, arguing that the panel of county superintendents abused its discretion when it denied a petition to transfer territory from one district to the other.
The ruling stated that, “although Conrad Schools may disagree with the panel’s findings and conclusions, nothing in the record before us indicates the panel acted arbitrarily or capriciously in issuing its decision.”
Brooks said the relationship with Dutton and Brady residents has been strained over the years when it comes to the consolidated school district, and the petitions and consequent court hearings haven’t helped.
He takes comfort in knowing the original petitioners (Brady residents) weren’t the ones who carried the case all the way to the state Supreme Court.
“We’ll just try to let that go as water under the bridge,” he said. “We’re trying to mend fences whenever possible.”