Q: What is isolation status?
A: State law (MCA 20-9-302 and 303) requires that an elementary district operating a school with fewer than 10 ANB (usually 8 or fewer full time students) for 2 consecutive years must apply for isolation status – and be approved as an isolated school – in order to receive full state funding during the 2nd year below 10 ANB. Isolation status generally indicates that a school of the district is geographically isolated and that students could not feasibly attend elsewhere if the isolated school was closed.
Q: How does a school apply for isolation status?
A: By May 1 of the 2nd consecutive year in which the enrollment of an elementary school produces ANB fewer than 10, the trustees must submit an application for isolation status (using the OPI-prescribed application form) to the County Superintendent. The county commissioners must approve the application form, by no later than May 15, before it is submitted to the state. The application is due to the Office of Public Instruction by June 1. (MCA 20-9-302)
Q: What are the criteria for being approved as an isolated school?
A: The main criteria are:
-- Another operating school, with room to accommodate the students of the applicant school, is further than 20 passable road miles away; and
-- Fewer than 50% of the students could be transported to another school within 1 hour (under normal conditions).
A district may also submit an application if the criteria are not met, but this should be limited to situations in which the trustees feel that extenuating circumstances support a variance from the criteria. (ARM 10.30.101 and 10.30.102)
Q: What happens if a school does not qualify as an isolated school?
A: If not approved as an isolated school, beginning with the 2nd year of fewer than 10 ANB the district must impose a permissive (non-voted) levy to replace half of the funding the state would have paid if the school had been approved for isolation status. That is, the district receives only half the state funding, and a local tax levy funds the other half. This would continue each year, unless the ANB rises to 10 or higher, or until the school’s circumstances change in a way that would support approval of an isolation application by the superintendent of public instruction.
Q: How long does the state superintendent’s approval of isolation status last?
A: The approval lasts 3 consecutive years, or until there are changes in the conditions allowing isolation classification. Upon expiration of the three-year approved status, it is renewable through the same application process as for districts submitting an initial application.
Q: How does isolation status or the lack of isolation status affect funding for other schools of the district?
A: The amount of a mandatory non-isolation levy for a school of a district is based on that non-isolated school's funding only. Other schools of the district that have approved isolation status, or that do not require isolation approval because ANB is 10 or more, receive full state funding. The district taxpayers all must pay for the additional levy when it is imposed for an isolated school of the district.
OPI Contact: Nica Merala at (406) 444-4401 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
4th of February, 2010