By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The 35th annual Ophir School Pie Auction kicks off at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 21 with a theme of “Jeans and Jewels.”

Held at Buck’s T -4, the biggest fundraiser of the year for Big Sky School District #72 is responsible for paying 80-90 percent of the programs at Ophir Elementary and Lone Peak High School. The district’s Parent Teacher Organization, which puts on the event each year, aims to raise $75,000 for the 2015-2016 school year, according to PTO President Sandi Cunningham.

Last year’s event raised $72,924 and Cunningham says the goal continues to increase due to the rise in enrollment.

“The school’s growing, but the money’s not,” she said.

According to Cunningham, $75,000 is the minimum amount needed to fulfill budgetary options for the next school year. The PTO – a board consisting of four volunteers whose sole mission is to raise funds to benefit BSSD – wholly manages the funds raised at the pie auction. If more than $75,000 is raised, the board will vote on approval of other funding requests they’ve received. The school board can make financial requests, she said, but they have no control over the budget.

Programs funded by the pie auction include graduation and prom; classroom supplements and field trips; the afterschool program; wages for the library assistant; the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C.; Expedition Yellowstone; ski days; the science fair; and the educator contingency fund, among others.

“I think the pie auction is amazing because it allows for our local students to engage in…unique and enriching opportunities [in] Big Sky,” said Julie Grimm, who runs the afterschool program, funded by the PTO, and also serves as the mentor coordinator for the Child Advancement Project, which is funded by the Yellowstone Community Club Foundation. As a former Ophir student, Grimm also said she knows first-hand how important those extra programs are.

“The PTO has been in action since I was a kid, and I was able to taken advantage of a lot of those really awesome opportunities,” she said.

Cunningham stresses that the pie auction is more than just a fundraiser – it’s a community event. A team of roughly 50 volunteers – as well as students and teachers – has been working to put on the pie auction. All Big Sky community members and visitors are invited.

The first pie auction took place in 1980 as a way to fund early school programs and miscellaneous items that weren’t in the normal budget. It started off with people baking pies and auctioning them off, but it’s grown to include a raffle, as well as live and silent auctions.

Some of this year’s raffle prizes include a $1,000 gift card to Conoco, 365 days of lattes from Big Sky Coffee, a loaf of bread a week from Blue Moon Bakery, and 365 days of cocktails from By Word of Mouth.

Auction items range from go-kart racing and bowling to golf and fly-fishing packages, horseback riding, a scenic flight, a hot air balloon ride, ski gear, a mountain bike, PBR tickets and a variety of gift cards and artwork.

Each grade is creating an art project that will be auctioned off at the pie auction.

“Student art has always been one of the biggest things at the auction,” said Cunningham, adding that students are also putting together a slideshow and offering free childcare as a part of their community service hours so parents can attend.

There will be a cash bar and hors d’oeuvres provided by Buck’s T -4. And, of course, pie.

The PTO is still accepting donations and sponsorships. The entire PTO budget is available to the public, and can be requested from the board.