MISSOULA - The Target Range School Board of Trustees has proposed a new technology tax levy, hoping to dig the school out of a financial hole caused by pandemic-era infrastructure changes.
The proposed tax hike would be the first change in the school’s technology budget since 2004. The current taxation gives the school $20,000 each year. The school board estimates actual costs at $367,375.
Target Range School superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt says the current income leaves the budget woefully thin.
“It will simply allow us to maintain the level of technology that we have in the school at this time,” Davis Schmidt said. “If it does not pass, that is when we are going to start seeing a change.”
Changes like increasing class sizes, reducing amounts of computers and cutting extracurricular programs like art and music. But how big of a tax burden will people need to pay? The school provides a property tax calculator giving a precise estimate, but roughly, it raises property taxes by about $24 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.
Davis Schmidt said this funding is just enough to have the school keep up with challenges discovered during the pandemic.
“It was really during the pandemic that we really began to understand our technology shortages and challenges,” Davis Schmidt said. “Fortunately we were given some funding from the federal level that allowed us to update and increase our technology available to our students. Then we started to realize that long-term we were really going to have a challenge maintaining those.”
The big-ticket items of tech spending are laptops for each student, network infrastructure, and subscriptions to the online curriculum. Davis Schmidt noted state-mandated online testing is forcing children to learn computer skills at early ages.
“Our students are actually learning those keyboard skills in kindergarten, first, and second grade,” Davis Schmidt said. “In order to be successful with the state assessments where they have to type long responses to questions.”
Will Montanans living in the Target Range district be willing to spend the extra cash? Historic data says no. Back in 2019, voters rejected an $8.27 million proposal to improve school safety. Also, about a quarter of current students live outside the tax district, and their parents would not bear the extra burden. Davis Schmidt said despite previous rejections, she has hope.
“I’m feeling really positive,” Davis Schmidt said. “I think we have an incredibly supporting community here at Target Range. We have a lot of people who care about education. I’m really hopeful that the community will step up and do what is needed because we haven't been able to keep up with the expenses over that time period.”
The levy will be put to vote on May 3.