Kalispell Public Schools Planning Levy Request for High School District

The $1.2 million operational levy would fund curriculum, technology and other needs

By Myers Reece
Glacier High School teacher Troy Smith, right, works with student Trystan Gifford on a 3D print project as part of an engineering project. Beacon File Photo

The Kalispell Public Schools board voted unanimously on Dec. 11 to move forward with planning an approximately $1.2 million high school general fund levy request to address curriculum, technology and other essential needs amid growing enrollment, reduced state funding and rising operational costs.

The vote is the first step in a process that will include ironing out more details and conducting public meetings beginning in February, culminating in the levy request appearing on the ballot in May.

If approved, the levy would increase taxes on a $200,000 home within the district by $25.71 annually, or $2.14 per month.

Unlike some districts that float general fund levies annually or frequently, Kalispell hasn’t requested one for the high school district since 2007, which passed, although three building reserve levies and one technology levy failed in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau also noted that Kalispell is one of only two Class AA high school districts in Montana not operating at maximum budget, and even with approval of the levy it would remain under maximum.

“There are increasing costs across the board,” Flatau said. “Unlike counties and cities, with school districts it’s all funded through the general fund. There’s no permissive levy that counties and cities have available to them to pay for increases.”

The district received nearly $700,000 less from the state due to budget cuts for fiscal year 2017-2018 and will again see reduced funding next year. It also took out a $725,000 loan to help cover increased costs for its self-funded health insurance program.

Faced with a budget shortfall, the district outlined $676,800 in elementary district cuts and $866,291 in high school district cuts over a two-year period covering the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. It also dipped into reserve funds.

The district floated a $1 million elementary district general fund levy in May, which voters approved, to fund day-to-day expenses after district officials said they had exhausted their options for using reserve funds and making cuts.

Now they are turning to voters for the same reasons in an effort to fund operational costs in the high school district, which includes Glacier and Flathead, as well as Linderman Education Center and Agricultural Education Center.

General fund levies, also called operational levies, are used for day-to-day expenses, including staff, textbooks, curriculum and other basic classroom needs. They are different than bonds, which are strictly used for brick-and-mortar infrastructure.

While the high school levy is similar in amount to the elementary levy, the cost to individual taxpayers is far less because the high school district is significantly bigger, encompassing 13 partner elementary districts.

Flatau said the levy will include two high-priority line items, one for technology and another for curriculum. Flatau noted that an elementary tech levy passed in 2014 but the high school tech levy failed that year.

“We’ve been really challenged to fund technology at the high school level at any significant level,” he said. “We’re just keeping up with basic technology needs.”

Flatau also said the budget for Glacier’s AP and Flathead IB programs needs to be shored up, as both are expensive and are losing a funding source. The levy would also help fund extracurricular activities such as speech and debate.

“There are lots of great things we want to continue to support and continue to offer our kids within our high school programs,” Flatau said.

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