Voters reject levy for Bitterroot Valley Community College

By: - May 4, 2022 11:05 am

Bitterroot College received approval by the Montana Legislature to form a community college district. (Provided by the Bitterroot College, UM.)

Voters rejected a levy Tuesday that would have paid to operate the Bitterroot Valley Community College, with 7,425 opposing it and 5,237 supporting it, according to results from the Ravalli County Elections Office.

That’s 58.6 percent against it, and 41.4 percent for it. Turnout was 41.89 percent, higher than usual, according to Carianna Newton with the elections office.

“Typically, we see a small turnout for the school elections,” Newton said.

Total opposition to the levy grew this year compared to 2020, when voters had rejected the levy with 5,872 opposing it and 5,203 supporting it, or 53 percent to 47 percent.

The Bitterroot Valley Community College operates under the umbrella of the University of Montana. The levy would have allowed the college to run on its own, independent of UM, but a UM spokesperson said Wednesday the flagship campus remains committed to higher education for people in the Bitterroot.

“Our priority remains that residents of the Bitterroot Valley have access to high-quality and affordable postsecondary opportunities close to home,” said UM spokesperson Dave Kuntz in an email. “The University of Montana will continue to work with the local leaders and elected representatives to ensure the University of Montana meets the education and workforce needs of the Bitterroot Valley.”

In June 2021, the college counted 147 students earning college credits and 252 earning continuing education. At the time, Victoria Clark, head of the college, said she anticipated enrollment would double in three or four years.

Clark could not immediately be reached Wednesday morning for comment on the future of the college. She told NBC Montana that the loss was a “tough blow,” but she respects the will of the voters and trustees would handle next steps.

“It’s clear,” Clark said to NBC Montana. “And the county doesn’t want a college. They don’t want a college right now. They don’t want to pay for one, and so that’s what they’ll get.”

The college website notes that Bitterroot Valley Community College will not be operational if the levy fails: “The new community college district will not have sufficient funds to initiate operations or continue advocating for local support. Student tuition and state appropriations do not provide enough revenue to get the new community college district up and running. The levy is needed for base operational costs; without the levy, there is no BVCC.”

The vote against the levy this year came after the college cleared a major legislative hurdle in 2021 with approval of a community college district. It also came after voters in fast-growing Ravalli County backed the organization of the college with 59 percent support in 2020 despite voting down the related levy.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”