By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The Big Sky School District’s monthly board meeting took place Feb. 12 at the Big Sky Community Library.

Danielle McLean, who sits on the board for Morningstar Learning Center, made an initial proposal to the school board that Morningstar form a partnership with BSSD to run the preschool at the new Ophir Elementary School, which would allow them to pool resources in educating Big Sky’s youth.

Following a number of standing reports, BSSD’s Owner Representative Bryan Tate of Tate Management, who represents the school’s interests during the construction of the new elementary school, introduced the project’s new site superintendent, Forrest Wesen of Martel Construction. Wesen is tasked with rescheduling the remainder of the project to increase efficiency so that the school can be ready for occupancy in early August, as originally planned.

Walkthroughs of the new building are encouraged, and can be set up by contacting Superintendent Jerry House.

Election ballots for voters to weigh in on the building reserve levy were mailed on Feb. 18 and are due March 10. Taxpayers would pay off the $840,000 levy over a five-year period with costs based on taxable home value. The additional funds are requested due to unforeseen building costs, which included 399 geopiers needed for structural support; radon gas mitigation; and more expansive site construction – all resulting from poor soil conditions.

If the levy is approved, funds would provide school furnishings and equipment; exterior landscaping; gymnasium furnishings and a laundry room; an outdoor playground; and communication systems.

If the levy doesn’t pass, the school will be built, but without the aforementioned finishings and furnishings.

House said the district is continuing to reach people via personal contact, as well as dispersing information with a “best knowledge” philosophy. He added that there would always be opposition to school matters, but as long as the school gives proper information, people can make informed decisions.

No further updates were given on the levy.

All action items on the agenda were approved. The first item was a revision of BP 3210, which involves equal education, non-discrimination and sex equity. The language was changed in the policy to prevent liability and now includes transgender students, though none are currently enrolled at BSSD.

The second action item, brought forth by Jolene Romney, was a revision of the Ophir School Fund contract, which awards money to teachers who may need help paying for additional training, or paying off student loans. The revision included adding a housing crisis grant program to help teachers with the high cost of living in Big Sky.

“This is a big deal,” said Board Chairman Loren Bough, noting that all the money in the fund is private. “We want more teachers living in the community, and we are using private dollars to try and make that happen.”

The housing crisis grant program will help teachers and their families make down payments on a home in the Big Sky area. Teachers who have previously received grants through the OFS are not eligible to apply, and applicants must have tenure, although exceptions can be made, Bough said.

Currently, there is approximately $350,000 in the fund.

The board also approved an Arts Council of Big Sky event to be held at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, as well an election by mail ballot for the school board election in May.

The board then briefly closed the meeting to the public, which is allowed under Montana law to consider matters of individual privacy.

When the meeting reopened to the public, Sandi Cunningham, head of the Parent Teacher Organization, gave an update on the annual pie auction, to be held March 21. Currently, 50 volunteers are helping with the event, but the PTO is still looking for sponsors and auction items.

The next school board meeting will be held March 19 at 3:30 p.m. in the Big Sky Community Library. A tour of the new elementary school under construction will be held the same day at 2:30 p.m.

All school board meetings are open to the public. Agenda and minutes of each meeting can be found at bssd72.org.