Board Trustees, Levies on Ballot for Upcoming Kalispell School Election

Voters on May 7 will elect three trustees to serve on the Kalispell school board and will decide whether or not to renew a sunsetting elementary technology levy and approve a $1 per-month high school levy. Read the Beacon's interviews with each candidate.

By Denali Sagner
Yard sign for Kalispell Public Schools in Kalispell on April 16, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

With the end of the school year on the horizon, the Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) are asking voters to elect three school board trustees and approve two levies in a May 7 election.

Three elementary trustee positions on the Kalispell school board are up for election this spring, with two incumbents and three newcomers seeking three-year terms on the board. Incumbent Sue Corrigan is a five-year school board member, former board chair and retired KPS educator. Rebecca Linden, also an incumbent, has served on the school board since 2020. Candidates Heidi Hickethier, Reynolds Cameron and Brian Putnam are seeking their first term. The Beacon interviewed each candidate via email about their goals for KPS, the district’s financial woes and innovative learning programs. The full interviews can be read below.

Two vacant high school trustee positions will be filled by acclamation, as only one candidate filed per open seat. Mark Kornick, former trustee and hatchery manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, will serve a one-year term as a high school trustee for Lakeside, Somers and Kila, following the resignation of former trustee Lloyd Bondy. Linda Kaps, founder of the youth shelter Sparrow’s Nest, will serve a three-year term representing Cayuse Prairie, Creston, Deer Park and Fair-Mont-Egan.

The school district will also ask voters to approve two levies: a sunsetting technology levy for the elementary school district that, if passed, will maintain current tax levels and will fund cybersecurity, communication and learning software; and a $1 per-month general fund levy for the high school district. Read more about the two levy proposals below.

Alongside districts across Montana, KPS in recent months has faced dire financial challenges as operating costs have risen and pandemic-era federal funding has expired. If both levies are approved, the district anticipates a $1.3 million budget deficit for the 2024-25 school year. Should the levies fail, the shortfall will be closer to $3.1 million. Recent efforts to pass levies have failed, leaving the district below full funding and forcing administrators to plan for staff and program cuts.

“We’re in an uphill battle facing almost two decades in ‘no’ votes,” Matt Jensen, assistant KPS superintendent and incoming superintendent, said of the upcoming levy elections at a recent meeting.

Kalispell’s public high schools receive the lowest amount of funding on a per-student basis compared to Montana’s other AA high school districts. Compared to $7,653.57 in general fund revenue per Kalispell high school student, students see $8,332.85 in revenue in Great Falls; $8,618.84 in Butte; and $8,870.84 in Helena. School board members and administrators say a lack of community-funded levies in Kalispell accounts for the deficit.

Ballots will be mailed out on April 22 and are due on May 7. They may be mailed or returned in person to the KPS auxiliary office at 514 East Washington Street. For voters planning to mail their ballots, the district suggests dropping them in the mail by May 1 in order to ensure they are received on time. The in-person ballot drop is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 7.

Sue Corrigan is a five-year Kalispell school board member, former board chair and retired KPS educator who worked for 15 years in the district as a job coach and 17 years as a Flathead High School special education teacher. Corrigan holds degrees from the University of Montana and Providence University and has worked for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, the city of Havre and the U.S. Forest Service. She is also the president-elect of the Montana School Boards Association (MTSBA), the membership organization for school boards across the state. Corrigan told the Beacon she is seeking reelection to the school board “to continue my journey toward quality education for all students” and “toward strategic improvement and growth while preserving core values and innovating instruction to meet individual student needs.” The incumbent trustee hopes to strengthen communication between the school board and the community, as well as evaluate and potentially change the types of assessments given to students. On the budget woes faced by the district, Corrigan said that the district should “be vigilant about spending” and “work with our legislators to fully fund the future of our valuable resource – people,” while ensuring not to saddle students with the impacts of budget cuts. She also lauded programs such as personalized, competency-based education and early literacy, which she said allow Kalispell’s schools to be flexible and “use innovative techniques to support learning for all students.”

Read the Beacon’s full interview with Sue Corrigan here.

Rebecca Linden has served on the Kalispell school board since 2020 and has two children currently enrolled in the district. She has a bachelor’s degree in theoretical mathematics and a master’s degree in plant physiology, and was the founder of Root Laughter Herbals and the director of Montana Herb Gathering. Linden told the Beacon she has been involved in KPS for years, bringing in experiences for students such as maypole dances, cooking seminars and craft projects, and volunteering with speech and debate, MathCounts, jazz band and theater. Linden said she is running again because the district has undergone significant change, and reelecting incumbents will allow the board to retain critical institutional knowledge as it navigates leadership, financial and student challenges. “Over two-thirds of our current trustees have served for less than five years, and we have had four superintendents, three clerks, and two HR directors in that timeframe,” she wrote. “Without this institutional knowledge, some of our decisions going forward will be made without fully understanding why these policies were enacted in the first place.” The incumbent said the district has excelled in supporting students at all levels and preparing students for life after graduation. She wants to improve the school board’s communication with constituents, helping the community stay informed about new programs and innovations in the classroom. Linden emphasized the importance of passing levies to fully fund the school district, and said that she keeps “a tight watch on the budget with an eye towards fiscal responsibility” while “ensuring positive student outcomes.”

Read the Beacon’s full interview with Rebecca Linden here.

Heidi Hickethier is the director of the Immanuel Foundation, the nonprofit organization of the Immanuel Lutheran Communities in Kalispell, and is a former employee of Flathead Valley Community College and KPS. Hickethier holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and communication and a master’s of business administration. Hickethier’s two children graduated from KPS. She served as president of the parent teacher organization, and as an office manager at Edgerton Elementary School, the executive assistant to a former superintendent, and as a staff member in the district’s finance department. The candidate said she “would love the opportunity to give back to the school system that gave so much to our family.” She said she does not have a specific agenda, but rather hopes to listen and work with others as a trustee. Regarding the district’s financial struggles, Hickethier said that if the district can create a solid budget with built-in contingencies, it can minimize potential deficits. She also emphasized the importance of ensuring KPS has positive enrollment projects for incoming revenue and a “firm grasp on upcoming expenditures.” She said, “I listen well, I work well with others, and I want to give back in a positive way.  I look forward to being part of something bigger than myself so our students can realize their potential, no matter their gifts.”

Read the Beacon’s full interview with Heidi Hickethier here.

Reynolds Cameron is an accountant and landlord who has three children in KPS. Cameron has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, a master’s degree in neuroscience from Lund University in Sweden and a master’s of business administration from the University of Southern California. Cameron and his family settled in Kalispell in 2020 after leaving San Francisco to, according to the candidate, escape “woke policies.” Cameron said he is running for the school board to represent Kalispell families and curb diversity, equity and inclusion policies, which he called “racist” and “mandated equal outcomes.” The candidate in a social media post described teachers unions as “terrorists who irreparably harmed millions of American children during COVID.” When asked by the Beacon about his post, Cameron said that “Anthony Fauci and [American Federation of Teachers President] Randi Weingarten [are] some of the worst people in America” and criticized pandemic-era masking and lockdown policies in schools. Cameron said he hopes to increase the use of mixed-age learning to expand opportunities for gifted students, abolish the half-day Wednesdays program and engage more with homeschool and private school families to help pass levies. He said that current school trustees “abrogate their fiduciary duty, acting as a rubber stamp for the superintendent” and that, if elected, he will approach problems with “analytical skepticism.”

Read the Beacon’s full interview with Reynolds Cameron here.

Brian Putnam is a mechanical engineer and former Montana state legislator who represented Evergreen and north Kalispell in the 2021 Montana Legislature. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Montana State University. As a state lawmaker, Putnam brought three bipartisan bills and worked as an advocate to help secure funding for new sidewalks in Evergreen. Putnam’s two children have attended KPS, and he served as a school board trustee when his family lived in North Dakota. The candidate hopes to work with lawmakers to ensure state funding formulas support public schools; bolster personalized education programs while monitoring their results; and address budget shortfalls through attrition and not program cuts, when possible. Putnam said he will apply an “analytical mindset to issues that are brought before the school board” and that he wants to “make sure that our public school system is the first and best choice for all students within the district.”

Read the Beacon’s full interview with Brian Putnam here.

KPS is asking voters to renew an existing $1.1 million technology levy for its elementary and middle schools that is set to expire on June 24. Funds from the levy currently pay for safety infrastructure such as cameras and cybersecurity software; communication tools like Google Classroom and Powerschool; learning programs for digital literacy; internet services and technical support. Given that the district is asking for a renewal, the levy will not increase taxes from existing levels, if passed. With the existing technology levy, a taxpayer with a home assessed value of $300,000 currently pays $3.81 per month.  The district has said that if the levy fails, KPS will need to fund technology programs out of its general fund, which will force the district to cut programs and school staff.

The $700,000 high school general fund levy proposed by KPS will cost $1 per month for a homeowner with a home assessed value of $300,000. The levy is set to pay for staff at Flathead High School, Glacier High School, Linderman Education Center and Agricultural Education Center, as well as address inflationary costs.

KPS has not succeeded in passing a high school levy since 2007. An October 2023 general fund levy for the high school failed by 3,894 votes. If the levy fails, the district said it will lose multiple full-time high school teachers.

More information can be found on the district’s website.

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