East Helena residents to vote on levy for public schools

East Helena Public Schools.jpg
Posted at 5:30 PM, Mar 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-18 19:30:06-04

HELENA — This April, ballots for the school elections will go out to East Helena voters. One option on the ballot will be whether to approve or deny a $380,000 levy that would increase funding for East Helena public schools.

Dan Rispens, Superintendent of East Helena Public Schools, says East Helena schools are facing a budget shortfall. To combat that shortfall, the school district expects to lose some staffing to retirement and not refill those positions.

“Anytime you’re losing people in schools, you’re losing services. And so, it means we’ll just have less to offer next year,” says Rispens.

But some positions such as the Junior ROTC, culinary arts program, and the computer education program the school district would rather see filled. Rispens says that the way to keep these programs is through this levy.

“Something’s gotta give. And it’s just like, you know, your budget at home. Sooner or later you gotta figure out what you can live without and what you have to have and what would be nice to have. And that’s the process that we’re going through right now,” says Rispens.

This budget shortfall is due to rising costs due to inflation as well as the loss of COVID relief funding. Additionally, ongoing wage negotiations with employee unions and unclear healthcare rates make the budget hard to currently nail down. Rispens says that while property owners may have recently seen an increase in property taxes, those increases don’t go directly to the local schools themselves. The district estimates that if a house has a value of about $300,000 there will be about a $50 per year increase in taxes.

“We’re trying to be responsible, still make cuts, and only ask for the things that we think are super critical to the district,” says Rispens.