The ImagineIF Board of Trustees will not formally appeal a loss of state funding to the Montana State Library following a failed vote at its March 24 meeting, where two of the four directors present abstained.
Several trustees, as well as new ImagineIF Libraries director Ashley Cummins, are scheduled to attend a Montana State Library Commission meeting in April where public funding for ImagineIF will be discussed. Trustee Dave Ingram said he intended to ask the commission to reconsider the withholding of funds and on Thursday introduced a motion for the board to formally appeal the decision.
In the vote for a formal appeal, ImagineIF board chair Heidi Roedel voted with Ingram in favor while directors Connie Leistiko and Marsha Sultz abstained, citing conflicts of interest. Administrator Doug Adams was absent from the meeting, leaving the motion without the three votes needed for it to pass.
“My problem is that I don’t see a reason why the rule would be changed, although I certainly regret that we’re going to lose $35,000 to our budget,” Leistiko said. “I can’t say we had a reason for doing what we did that is an exception to the rule and I can’t say I think the rule should be changed.”
The funding at issue is said to come from the Montana State Library, which distributes assistance to libraries that meet the state’s public library standards, which are designed to “identify a basic level of service that residents or visitors should receive wherever they are in Montana”. The annual disbursement for ImagineIF was $35,731 in 2022.
Under current standards, the director of a library serving a community of more than 25,000 people must have a master’s degree in library science (MLS) or equivalent to maintain state certification. In January, directors voted 3-2 to hire Cummins, despite not holding MLS. At the time, Montana State Librarian Jennie Stapp told administrators that while libraries can request a deferral if they can show they are having difficulty meeting certification standards, ImagineIF n have had no difficulty since hiring Cummins with full knowledge of the resulting loss of funding.
After Cummins was hired, Flathead County Commissioner Randy Brodehl wrote a letter to state library commissioners asking them to reconsider funding. Brodehl specifically cited the administrative rule detailing public library standards, which states that the director must have an MLS “or equivalent.”
“Our view is that even though the future director does not have an MLS, she has seven years of experience as a library director in another state. The appointed director is supported by a leadership team that has a number of library credentials – including an MLS,” Brodehl wrote in the letter. “The training required for certification, as a body of dedicated library professionals, is more than present to operate effectively, frankly, a modest library system here in Flathead County.”
[Read the commissioner’s letter here: Montana-State-Library-re-Flathead-County-ImagineIf-Library]
Brodehl also contacted the office of Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, which led to two meetings between Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras and the state librarian. Stapp said in an email to The Beacon that the governor’s office was not intervening but simply asking for clarification on the state aid distribution process.
In February, the State Library Board wrote a letter to Flathead County Commissioners stating that any appeals regarding library standards must come from the library board and invited Roedel to attend the next meeting in April. .
At the trustees’ meeting on Thursday, Ingram expressed his desire to ask the State Library Commission for more clarity on their certification “or equivalent” standards.
In emails to the Beacon, Stapp said that “or equivalent” refers specifically to what’s called a master’s degree — some schools call them degrees in information science or something similar — but ” any degree from an accredited library school” meets the standard.
“The fact that other staff may hold similar degrees does not meet the standard and this exception is not provided for in Montana’s administrative rules,” Stapp wrote.
Roedel, Ingram and Adams plan to attend the April meeting and will be able to offer public comment instead of representing the board on an agenda item.
The rest of Thursday’s directors’ meeting, which was noticeably restricted from recent contentious rallies centered on the loss of certification, as well as the resignations of longtime ImagineIF executives and two book challenges, was largely focused on the budget for the coming year.
The council’s finance committee, made up of Leistiko and Ingram, discussed the commissioners’ desire for departments to “hold the line” on their budgets, a request made difficult due to a cost-of-living adjustment of 2, 5% for the next fiscal year, a 4% salary adjustment that came into effect in February and inflation.
For ImagineIF, the salary adjustments amount to an increase of about $50,000 for next year, which, following a unanimous vote, board members agreed to ask the county to cover.
“Basically, library services are people and materials and that shows up in our budget,” Leistiko said.
Ingram also shared the ImagineIF commissioners’ wish to begin budgeting for expenses for the new Bigfork branch building before the county accepts the $1.5 million donation, which trustees agreed that it would be difficult to do before the operation of the new building.
The FY23 overall budget proposal projects expenditures of $1,817,164, up 3.37% from FY22. Revenue projections, which will not be finalized until the county will not have determined real estate values later in the year, are expected to decline about 2%, to $1,739,262.