New Ennis trustees want better relationship with Big Sky

Big Sky passes building, technology levies

By Taylor Anderson, Big Sky Weekly Assistant Editor

In the May 8 school board trustees elections in Gallatin and Madison counties, Big Sky has two new trustees who are indifferent to the broken relationship between Ophir and Ennis school boards.

For its part, Ennis elected Bill Clark and Craig George, two candidates who expressed deep regard for transparency of the board and bridging a gap that has for years been torn.

Ty Moline, who was just voted in for a two-year trustee position on the Big Sky board, said in advance of the election that he was optimistic the two boards can keep a good relationship, though he didn’t lend specifics.

“It is important that the boards keep an open, working relationship and I cannot see any reason they wouldn’t,” he said late in April.

Asked how the two, fresh school boards could maintain a strong relationship in the future, Kristen Ramirez, who collected the most votes in the Big Sky election with 218, said, “Is there a need for this?”

Matt Jennings, who filled the other three-year spot with 210 votes, offered a more enthusiastic approach to working with Ennis in the future.

“It would seem to me that the best option is to look into drawing up new district lines that make more sense,” Jennings said. “The fact that such a substantial amount of the taxes collected from Madison County go to the Ennis school district even though they are paid by Big Sky residents is wrong.”

Big Sky homeowners in the resort developments and the Yellowstone Club have accounted for about half of Madison County’s total collected property taxes in the last seven years. A greater percentage, about 75 percent, of a controversial new building in Ennis came from Big Sky taxes. Residents here have for years cried foul over the literal geographical divide between Ennis and Big Sky, separated by private Jack Creek Road.

In answering questions from the Big Sky Weekly before the election, Bill Clark and Craig George, who collected 599 and 585 votes respectively, were the only two candidates that expressed interest in opening relations with Big Sky.

“Open conversation between all interested parties needs to begin,” said George, who grabbed the second, three-year seat by 28 votes. “Because of the distance between Ennis and Big Sky, the School Board needs to extend their schedules to travel to Big Sky and hold community meetings throughout the year.”

Matching that sentiment, Bill Clark posed several ideas, like scheduling meetings with the Ennis School Board and the Big Sky parents and students or creating viral courses for Big Sky residents.

“What we need to do is use our imaginations and vision to create a real partnership. I would like to hear ideas from residents of Big Sky,” Clark said before listing his cell phone number.

Letters from concerned residents filed over the hill from Ennis and filled the local papers in support of all four candidates, though more were in favor of Clark and George.

Ennis showed up to the ballots in strong numbers to vote, and each candidate received at least 500 votes. The Ennis School District has about 2,700 eligible voters. It collected 1,082 ballots.

There is one more Ennis School Board meeting on May 14 before Clark and George train and begin in June. The two will have one meeting with current Superintendent Doug Walsh, who is resigning in disrepute after collecting benefits from the Teachers’ Retirement System while receiving full salary from the school. Walsh’s last day is June 30.

The school has already filled the superintendent position with John Overstreet, who was superintendent before Walsh and is retiring from Three Forks to act as one-year interim for Ennis. School District Clerk Ginger Martello said Overstreet will be allowed to collect full retirement benefits and salary from the school due to a law passed in 2009.

Dave Senn, executive director of the Montana TRS, said that under the law, Overstreet will be able to work for one year before the school has to search for his replacement. If they are unable to fill the position at that time, Overstreet can sign another one-year contract with the school. Senn said the law states that only teachers or superintendents who retired after 30 years are allowed to collect full benefits and salaries. They are allowed to collect for three years if a school district has trouble filling the position.

Big Sky residents also voted to pass two small levies for a building reserve fund that will go toward maintaining the schools, as well as a technology levy to repair equipment and train faculty. Votes tallied 243 for and 175 against the building levy and 268 for and 150 against the technology levy.