Kalispell Schools Addressing Significant Budget Shortfall

Administrators proposing cuts, possible levies due primarily to state budget cuts and rising health-insurance costs; luncheon at Red Lion to discuss finances on Feb. 27

By Andy Viano
Mark Flatau, superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools. Beacon File Photo

Reductions in state spending and changes to the district’s health-insurance program are forcing administrators in Kalispell’s School District 5 to propose significant cuts to the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budgets, and will likely lead to the district running at least one general fund levy this spring.

Administrators presented the school board’s finance committee with its findings on Feb. 23, addressing a general fund shortfall of approximately $1.5 million. The proposal included more than $700,000 worth of cuts in the current academic year and more than $800,000 the following year, along with recommendations that a levy be run for at least the elementary district in May. The district is also proposing that more than $1.3 million from a shared inter-local fund be approved as a short-term fix.

Kalispell schools’ current predicament is the result of two major factors: the state’s recent budget cuts and the rising cost of health insurance. During the 2017 legislative session and the special session that followed, the district’s revenue from the state was slashed by more than 70 percent (around $700,000), according to District 5 Superintendent Mark Flatau. The district also needed to increase its per-employee contribution to its health-insurance program from $525 to $650 per person, a total cost to the district of approximately $900,000. Flatau said the increased health-insurance funding had been needed for several years and that potentially passing those costs on to employees was “not fair.”

The proposed cuts to both the elementary and high school budgets do not eliminate any teaching positions but do impact activities spending, custodial costs and curriculum expenses, among several other areas. A team of 27 administrators from throughout the district, Flatau said, deliberately examined more than 6,000 lines of expenses before making its recommendations.

The elementary district’s need for a levy is exacerbated by the forthcoming addition of Rankin Elementary School, which will open this fall. A bond passed in 2016 allocated money to build the physical infrastructure, but those funds can’t be used to operate the school and pay for things like teacher salaries, supplies and curriculum. The school board will make the final decision whether or not to put an operational levy before voters this spring, likely via a mail-in ballot due May 8.

The high school, Flatau hopes, will not need to run a levy this year but would almost certainly need to do so in 2019. High school enrollment district-wide has increased by more than 800 students since the 2006-07 school year, when the last high school levy was passed.

“You’re making budget cuts that in some cases you cannot sustain,” he said. “We cannot continue to not fund curriculum adoptions — they’re not funded currently at an adequate level. We know that dollars are going to have to be replenished into our high school budget.”

“We’re just trying to sustain to get another year down the road without having to go out for both levies at the same time,” Flatau said. “The position we’ve always taken, the last several years in Kalispell, is if we can get by another year without a levy ask, then that’s the approach we’ve taken.”

The amounts requested for both the elementary and high school levies have not been determined, and will be decided in the coming weeks by the school board. The next regular board meeting is scheduled for March 6 at 6 p.m. at Kalispell Middle School.

Flatau will discuss the district’s finances at a Feb. 27 luncheon hosted by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce at the Red Lion Hotel from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. A special school board work session is also scheduled for Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at Kalispell Middle School.

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