Kalispell School Board Candidate Interview: Brian Putnam

Brian Putnam is a mechanical engineer and former Montana state legislator and North Dakota school board trustee.

By Denali Sagner

Flathead Beacon: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Brian Putnam: I am a retired mechanical engineer.  I’m a native Montanan and have lived in Kalispell for 18 years.  I am also a former Montana state representative and have served on the school board in Rugby, N.D.

FB: What is your relationship to the Kalispell Public Schools? 

BP: My daughter began her education at Elrod before we moved away to North Dakota.  My son graduated from Flathead High School, and my grand-daughter will start attending school in a couple of years.

FB: Why are you running for school board? 

BP: I want to make sure that our public school system is the first and best choice for all students within the district. I want to make sure that the schools are continuously improving. My background and experiences can help the district achieve that goal.

FB: What are some positive elements of the Kalispell Public Schools you’d like to see continued as a school board trustee? 

BP: Overall, we have a great school system in SD5. There are opportunities for kids to learn at their own pace, and the school is doing a good job of opening up career opportunities and getting kids ready for higher education if that is the path they choose.

FB: What are some things you’d like to change about the district as a trustee? 

Change has to be ongoing. From what I have seen, the administration and staff is pursuing the best ways to help students learn. I would like to encourage and ensure that this continues.

BP: Alongside school districts across Montana, the Kalispell Public Schools have faced considerable financial challenges this year. Depending on the fate of upcoming levies, the district is set to face a budget deficit between $1.3 million and $3.1 million. What do you see as the best path forward as the district navigates financial challenges? 

Finances are always going to be a critical issue for public schools. The elementary tech levy is critical to continuing current operations within the elementary schools, and is a continuation of a previous levy, so it will not result in a tax increase. The high school levy is also critical to operations at the high schools. Luckily, this levy only adds $1 per month to the typical tax bill.

Even with the levies, the school district runs a very tight budget. The superintendent has plans to address any budget shortfalls with normal attrition, without cutting any programs. I support this reasonable method to keep the school on a sound financial footing.

Long term, we need to be working with state legislators to make sure that laws they create help the school district and the overall education system.

FB: KPS over the past few years has focused on personalized competency-based education (PCBE) and work-based learning as methods to create individualized educational opportunities for students. What do you think the role of PCBE and career-focused education should be in students’ learning? 

BP: I think this is a great way to make sure that students are learning the skills they will need to succeed in their future career paths. The board does need to monitor the results of these programs to make sure students are getting the right balance of trade skills and general knowledge to succeed in life.

FB: What experience / skills do you have that would make you an effective school board trustee?

BP: Engineering is all about analyzing the different options that are available to achieve a goal. We consider the costs and benefits of individual items, and how they fit into the big picture. I will apply this analytical mindset to issues that are brought before the school board.