Kalispell School District Announces Nearly $1.7 Million in Budget Cuts

Cuts will impact operations across the board, come in the wake of levy failure

By Myers Reece

The Kalispell Public Schools district has announced nearly $1.7 million in budget cuts following the failure of a high school operational levy last month.

The district plans to cut nearly $1.4 million from the high school budget and an additional $300,000 from the elementary budget, according to a June 6 press release announcing the cuts. Even with the cuts, the district says it’s still facing a $76,000 deficit in the elementary budget and $326,000 deficit in the high school budget.

“The last six weeks have been the most challenging of my time here,” Superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools Mark Flatau said.

Over the last two years, the district had already cut $866,000 from the high school budget and more than $600,000 from the elementary school budget. The cuts were enacted without impacting staff positions.

The district has been facing a budget shortfall in recent years due to a combination of factors, including state education funding cuts and rising health-care costs, exacerbated by growing enrollment.

The shortfall prompted the already implemented cuts as well as two levy requests, one for the elementary district and one for high school. Voters approved the $1 million elementary general fund levy last year but voted against the $1.2 million high school general fund levy last month.

The high school levy was needed to update, bolster and support a range of day-to-day operational needs, including technology, curriculum and activities, as well as to increase safety and security measures and maintain current staff positions. The funds would have also supported the Linderman Education Center and the Agriculture Education Center.

“Each one of these areas will be affected by the budget cuts,” the district stated, adding that Kalispell high schools “already have the lowest general fund budgets and cost per student budgets in the state of Montana across AA schools.”

The newly announced cuts will not lead to layoffs but will prevent the district from adding new positions to accommodate growing enrollment, meaning “all Kalispell schools will operate with fewer teachers and support staff despite the overall needs of the district continuing to grow.” Mainly, the cuts will be implemented through attrition, with open positions from retirements and resignations remaining unfilled.

The press release noted that the district “has worked hard to keep staff employed.”

“We are confident all who want to continue working for School District 5 will have a position, even if it is slightly different,” Flatau said.

Personnel wages and benefits make up 86 percent of the high school general fund budget and 89 percent of elementary.

“That leaves 14 and 11 percent respectively to run the district,” the district said. “Levies are for learning so after staff costs, that includes supplies, equipment, activities, curriculum materials, paper, books, lights, water, maintenance, etc.”

In addition to the impacts on personnel in both teaching and support staff, the cuts will include $300,000 to high school technology, $100,000 to curriculum and instructional materials, $107,000 to activities, $30,000 in maintenance equipment, $45,000 in building budgets and $4,500 in field trips.

Flatau said in an interview the cuts will take many forms. For activities, they will likely mean less money for uniforms, stipends and travel, while for technology, the cuts will impact updates to computer labs and software, among other areas.

The district’s board of trustees is working is looking for ways to cover the remaining post-cut deficits through district savings rather than additional cuts.

While the cuts will be implemented for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year, Flatau said the district isn’t “out of the woods” for forthcoming years.

“We know that our projected revenues for 2021 do not match our expenditures,” Flatau said. “Additional reductions are likely.”

Meanwhile, enrollment continues to grow, as does the cost of operations, including utilities, insurance and personnel. The prospect of needing to leave more retirements and resignations unfilled beyond next year is painful for Flatau.

“Next year we will be operating with fewer teachers and support staff, and it’s likely that in 2021 we will be operating with fewer teachers and support staff,” Flatau said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow when your student body continues to grow.”