21 September 2017 — 1629 mdt
Deer Park bond failure underscores need for school district consolidation
Proponents of the $26.5 million bond for a new Muldown elementary school in Whitefish probably experienced cold chills late Tuesday when they learned that the $3 million Deer Park elementary bond was rejected resoundingly by the district’s voters, 126 for and 207 against.
Deer Park, a rural district south of Columbia Falls that dates to 1886, is one of the Flathead’s smallest school districts, and its elementary school spends less per student that any other Flathead school district.
The defeat of the Deer Park bond probably is not a harbinger of the outcome of the 3 October Muldown bond election, for which ballots were mailed last Friday. Although Whitefish is asking for almost ten times as much money, its much larger tax base means the Muldown bond’s burden on individual taxpayers will be only 40 percent of the burden that Deer Park’s voters rejected.
Deer Park’s predicament — an aging, failing, inadequate physical plant, and too small a tax base for a first class school — underscores the need to consolidate the Flathead’s smallest school districts with their larger neighbors. Deer Park should be subsumed by the Columbia Falls District, Onley/Bissell by Whitefish, and so forth. Consolidation won’t save that much money as salaries will rise in the subsumed small districts, but it will equalize the burden on the taxpayers, produce administrative efficiencies, and provide more educational resources for the students.
The old country school is a wonderful part of American history, but as the Deer Park district’s inability to arrest the decay of its facilities reminds us, it’s an institution whose time passed decades ago.