Three years after a successful bond request to expand schools, Kalispell Public Schools are asking voters to upgrade technology and programming at the district’s high schools for the first time in more than a decade.
Ballots for the levy were sent Monday, asking for $1.2 million to benefit 2,900 high school students taking classes at Flathead and Glacier High Schools, the Linderman Education Center, and the Agricultural Education Center.
"We’re not just asking for money and not looking at our bottom line, not looking at where we can appropriately reduce spending," says Mark Flatau, superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools.
Flatau says the district has cut $866,000 from its budget over the last two years.
"When we’re looking at our budget for next year, with basically just minimal supports moving forward, we’re over $1.2 million deficit."
The bond puts aside $300,000 for new technology and $100,000 for curriculum improvements like new textbooks. It also focuses on extracurriculars like speech and debate, alternative and trade education, and basic safety and security improvements like funding for school resource officers.
Flatau says funds like this provide the basic groundwork for a quality education.
"If your goal as a graduate from Kalispell Public Schools is to be the best welder in the valley or to attend Columbia University where we have graduates attending right now, we wanna help you get there."
The last levy for Kalispell high schools passed in 2007, and a pair of bonds for all the district’s schools totalling $54 million passed in 2016. But Flatau says there’s no overlap with the levy requests.
"Levies are for learning, bonds are for building."
The school has added 333 students since that last levy passed, along with 46,000 square feet of space, with more additions on the way.
"The good news is that our high school district is very large," Flatau says. "Because of that, the tax base is very large."
Flatau says for voters, the levy would cost about a $1.07 per $100,000 in property value.
The state provides 80 percent of public schools’ maximum budget in Montana. The remaining funds come from community support, including levies. Kalispell schools have raised only 12 percent above that state funding level — the lowest of any AA high school in Montana.
"We want our community to know that we’re not asking for the sky. We need a bump at this point."
A $1 million levy was passed for Kalispell elementary schools last May. A different levy specifically for technology in high schools in the area failed in 2014.
At other schools across the state, smaller levies turn up on ballots just about every year to keep budgets at or near their maximum.
"Kalispell’s taken the approach that we’re going to ask when we need it."
Flatau says the new funding will also account for inflation over the last decade and high-level academic programs like Advanced Placement.
"I think it’s one of the best investments that a community can make. From my perspective it’s just keeping our home values up, keeping our community healthy, and most importantly providing the necessary support that it takes to graduate kids prepared for life after high school."
Flatau says the district has given 31 presentations to the community in the run-up to voting.
Ballots must be received by May 7 at 8 p.m.