HAMILTON – Ravalli County commissioners have been told that a levy to support a special literacy program in the Bitterroot will be a "great investment" in the community by helping people improve their lot in life.
That was the thrust of arguments made on Tuesday as leaders and supporters of Literacy Bitterroot convinced the board to allow voters to consider the funding package this fall.
Literacy Bitterroot has been among the leading programs when it comes to helping adults further their skills, education and employment for the past 30 years.
But the program ran into a snag last year when the Montana Office of Public Instruction decided to combine literacy programs into a regional program based in Missoula — along with the funding needed in Ravalli County.
"All of that money is no longer available to us but the need is still here. So we would be providing classes and tutoring. We would be working with adults. We would be doing the work we’ve always been doing," Literacy Bitterroot executive director Dixie Stark said. "But we would have county funds to support the work instead of spending so much of our time raising the money".
Stark told commissioners that not only has funding been diverted, but Bitterroot residents aren’t getting the timely service they need — and that is cutting off their opportunities for college courses and better jobs.
"Sometimes people waited six weeks to get a callback. If they’re on welfare or any kind of public assistance we don’t want them sitting there six weeks before they get going on their educational goals," Stark said. "We want them to be fast-tracked."
The 1.5 mill levy would generate about $120,000 a year if approved, enough for the program to keep helping adults achieve their High School Equivalency Diplomas and beyond.
Advocates of the literacy program told county commissioners that having the levy funding is not only critical to the program but it will also allow graduates to go on and take advantage of other community resources, like Bitterroot College.
"And passing this levy is totally in our own self-interest," program supporter Terry Ryan told commissioners. "Our county becomes a darker place if we allow our Codys and our Katys to fail."
"The chord that was struck with me is that what we do in the Bitterroot is take care of our own," added Ravalli County Commissioner Chris Hoffman.
Commissioners endorsed the ballot measure unanimously but also warned it will take a lot of work in a short time to win approval. Stark said she realizes "it’s a long shot", but she’s optimistic voters will see the benefits of the levy.
Literacy Bitterroot advocates say about half of its graduates go on to take college classes. The levy will be on the ballot in November.