Kalispell schools have earned support for levy

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Kalispell voters are being asked to vote on a $1 million levy to support elementary schools in the district.

That’s partly because the district has a brand new elementary school to staff and to maintain next year when Rankin Elementary opens. There will be some savings as costs are shifted from other schools, but some costs will be brand new as well.

The other big reason why money is needed this coming year is because state funding for the district was reduced by $687,294 over the current and coming school years.

It’s important to remember that a levy provides supplemental funding for operating expenses needed to maintain our schools and should not be confused with a bond, which is used to pay for capital projects such as new buildings. Voters already approved a bond to build Rankin Elementary, but the district was always up front about the need for additional money to pay for things like books, security equipment and staffing.

Kalispell Public Schools has a reputation for providing excellent education to our young people. We are consistently at or near the top in rankings of standardized test scores or other performance measures. We think that’s largely because of the support and generosity of the community as they invest in the future.

Frankly, it would be easy to just say that the levy will “support the kids” and leave it at that, but there are also very good reasons to vote for this levy that are backed up by common sense and good fiscal sense as well.

So, yes, we support the kids, but here’s why:

Kalispell Public Schools has been a good fiscal manager for years. The last general fund levy that voters approved for elementary schools was in 2012. For the high school district, that actually extends all the way back to 2007, just after Glacier High School opened.

Other school districts are known to ask for levy support from voters year after year, but the Kalispell school district has found ways to get by with funding from the state and other sources, despite growing enrollment and expectations.

Moreover, unlike other districts around the state, Kalispell has not sought to push spending to the maximum allowed level of funding. In fact, the elementary district has been operating at 93 percent of the maximum. As a comparison, both Columbia Falls and Whitefish operate at 100 percent. So, too, do almost all the AA school districts in Montana. Even with this increase funding, Kalispell will still be well short of the maximum.

Fiscal responsibility has been shown in other ways, too. This year, the Kalispell superintendent, trustees and staff went through the operating budget line by line and reduced elementary spending by $353,024 for the current year and by $323,776 for 2018-2019.

Similar savings were found in the high school budget as well, and as a sign of good faith, district trustees decided not to ask for a high school levy this year.

That shows a commitment to provide the most value to taxpayers for their generosity in continuing to support our schools going forward. To be honest, we can’t think of one reason not to support this levy request, and we encourage all voters in Kalispell to vote yes.

Absentee ballots will be sent out this week, and early voting starts as well. The rest of us can vote at your normal precinct polling place on May 8.

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