Kalispell Schools Hope to Address Overcrowding, Outdated Technology

By Beacon Staff

With nearly 1,000 more students in the Kalispell School District than a year ago, administrators are once again faced with overcrowded classrooms. At the same time, outdated technology, including computers that are more than six years old, is also wearing thin in the modern age and hampering educational opportunities, according to superintendent Darlene Schottle, leading the school district to seek funds through a new 10-year levy.

The Kalispell School District No. 5 board of trustees voted unanimously last week to float a levy of $1.2 million for technology upgrades in its high school and elementary facilities. The funds would go toward infrastructure, software and other technology-related needs within the city’s school system, including staff training. The district will ask residents for 11.31 mills in the elementary district and 4.81 mills in the high school district.

The high school district has not had a technology levy in the past three years while the elementary district is in the final year of its levy.

Mail-in ballots will be sent out April 21 and are due back May 6.

Annual property taxes would increase $12.60 for the high school district and $29.62 for the elementary district for a homeowner whose house had an assessed value of $200,000, according to the school district.

Schottle, the outgoing superintendent who will be replaced by Mark Flatau this summer, appeared at last week’s monthly luncheon for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and explained the status of the city’s schools.

While Kalispell students are excelling above historical averages and graduating at higher rates than previous years, overcrowding persists and today’s youth are faced with new opportunities and challenges related to technology, Schottle said.

Schools should stay up to date in order to provide the best education available, she added, and the levy would provide vital support in the effort to adapt to modern technology.

“It truly takes a community to build a rich school system, both at the K-12 level and the community college level, because we depend upon your support,” Schottle told business and community members last week. “When that happens, we float everybody’s boat.”

Along with the evolving landscape of education, Schottle explained the ongoing enrollment gains that are persistent in Kalispell. There are 19 kindergarten classes this year, three more than a year ago. The younger grades continue to see massive growth as the economy rebounds and the city’s population grows.

Last fall, the Kalispell School District reported 3,014 elementary students, its largest enrollment on record, and 2,781 high school students, a decline of 59 over last year but still 315 more than 10 years ago.

Kalispell voters approved a $3.35 million bond request for the elementary school district in 2012 to create a new district kitchen and develop eight new classrooms to address overcrowding.

The new classroom filled up immediately, Schottle said, and the entire district is once again at capacity.

“We could very quickly be above capacity and above accreditation standards,” she said.

Instead of seeking funds for additional expansion at the current facilities, the school district is looking to acquire a property roughly 20 acres in size that would be big enough for various options for a new school, Schottle said. The school board will iron out the details over the next year as it crafts a long-range facility plan, and Schottle said the new facility could be both an elementary and possibly middle school facility.

It would be the first new school built in Kalispell in more than 30 years, since Edgerton was created in 1980.

The school district has identified the south side of Kalispell as an ideal location because of its recent uptick in housing growth and the dearth of schools in the area, Schottle said. Two sites were initially identified, but one site was recently purchased, and the property search is on hold, Schottle said.

Another property has been identified as a possible site, but it lies within the Lakeside-Somers district.

“We need to relook and see if there’s anything available to us and decide if we’re going to look at another piece of property,” she said.

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