The Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) on Oct. 3 will ask voters to approve four measures that, if passed, will provide funding for safety and technology infrastructure in the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.
KPS is proposing a new safety levy for both the elementary and high school districts, as well as a new technology levy for the high school district and the renewal of the elementary district’s pre-existing technology levy. Levies are local property taxes collected to help finance educational programs that are not covered by state and federal funding.
“Our schools are amazing and we do a great job, but we can always do things better, and that’s what we’re focusing on,” KPS Board Chair Heather Asher said, speaking about the district’s decision to put the levies on the ballot.
While districts often propose levies to fund extracurricular activities, special education, transportation and maintenance, among other programs, a safety-specific levy is a relatively new concept, one that KPS spent months dreaming up, Asher said.
“We need to make sure we have everything implemented to make sure our kids are always safe,” the school board chair said, outlining services that would be funded by the safety levy, such as School Resource Officers, mental health counselors, coordinated emergency response systems and a district-wide suicide prevention specialist.
The levy would also allow KPS to invest in both physical and cyber security infrastructure, vital components of the school system that Asher said often go unrecognized in the community. According to Jason Hecock, one of the Information Technology Directors at KPS, the district sees between 100,000 and 125,000 hacking attempts per day into its computer system. Without adequate cyber security infrastructure, which runs up a substantial bill, the district could be vulnerable to attacks.
“It’s more than just the physical components,” Asher said. “If we drop the ball on that, that’s detrimental.”
In addition to the safety levies, voters will be asked to renew a technology levy for Kalispell’s elementary and middle schools, and approve a new technology levy for the high schools. The technology levy would fund up-to-date classroom technology for both teachers and students.
“There’s a lot of community members that don’t realize how much technology is involved in a modern, daily classroom,” Asher said.
KPS students learn through the use of tablets, whiteboards, computers and other digital programs, many of which are costly and drain the district’s general fund in the absence of a levy.
Asher said that while she understands community members’ reluctance to pass levies that would increase their taxes, it is critical to keep Kalispell’s schools funded. The school board chair also noted that individual residents’ taxes would go up minimally with the passage of the levies.
On a home with an assessed property value (not market value) of $444,700, taxpayers would have a monthly increase of $2.13 for the high school technology levy. That increase would amount to $3.40 per month for the high school safety levy; $7.80 per month for the elementary safety levy; and $2.15 for the elementary technology levy, when accounting for the expiration of the existing elementary technology levy. Residents can find their assessed property value by visiting the Montana Department of Revenue website.
“I’m a taxpayer too. I feel them and I get it. We are all dealing with the effects of inflation,” Asher said. “That’s also affecting our schools. Your budget at home, at the grocery store has gone through the roof. We’re having the same issues in our schools. We’re all affected by this. We don’t take this lightly at all.”
While KPS has had success passing elementary school levies in recent years, voters have not approved a high school levy since 2007. Without a levy, technology and safety programs must be funded through the general fund, draining Flathead and Glacier’s budgets for staffing, student services, facilities and other programs.
“When you do run the numbers, it is a very, very minimal impact, and our kids are worth it. You can only say no for so many years,” Asher said.
Ballots will be mailed by the school district office on Sept. 18, and must be returned by 8 p.m. on Oct. 3. Ballots may be returned in person or by mail to the KPS Auxiliary Admin Office, 514 E. Washington St. In order to meet the Oct. 3 deadline, KPS encourages voters to mail ballots by Sept. 27.
More information about the levies can be found here.