Helena school levy ballots going out April 22

Helena Public Schools
Posted at 5:45 PM, Apr 15, 2024

HELENA — Helena Public Schools election ballots will go out in one week, as district leaders ask voters to support levies to help maintain their current programs.

Ballots will be put in the mail April 22. Voters must return them to the Lewis and Clark County Elections Office by May 7.

The board of trustees has put five separate levies before voters – three for the elementary district and two for the high school district, which also includes the Wolf Creek and Canyon Creek areas. They include:

· Permanent safety and security levies for elementary and high school, raising $7.2 million a year and $3.4 million a year respectively, to pay for things like physical security upgrades, additional school resource officer staffing, more school nurses and counselors and other mental health supports.
· Ten-year technology levies for elementary and high school, raising $1.5 million a year and $800,000 a year respectively, to pay for buying and maintaining digital devices and networks and for cybersecurity improvements.
· A general operations levy for the elementary district only, raising $242,000 a year and intended to help close a gap in the operating budget.

If all the levies pass, they would increase taxes about $331 a year on a $300,000 home in the elementary district, and about $99 a year on a $300,000 home in the Wolf Creek or Canyon Creek districts.

District leaders say the technology and safety and security levies would create dedicated revenue for those services, reducing pressure on the general fund.

In a message to families Friday, Superintendent Rex Weltz said the district can continue their current staffing and program levels if all the levies pass. If they all fail, he said they will have to go back to the proposed cutbacks a committee considered in response to a projected financial shortfall. He said the result would be “sizable reductions to staff at all levels and/or cuts to district programs and curriculum.”

“While we’re grateful for the work of the Committee and glad to have contingencies in place, I hope the plan does nothing more than gather dust on a shelf,” Weltz said.

HPS is not alone in asking voters to support school levies in the May 7 election. Large “AA school districts” in Billings, Bozeman, Kalispell and Missoula are proposing levies, as is East Helena Public Schools. District leaders across the state have raised concerns about financial challenges.

Helena’s elections for school board trustee were canceled, as only three candidates filed for three open seats. Incumbent trustee Janet Armstrong and candidate Rachel Robison were elected unopposed to three-year terms, and incumbent Jeff Hindoien was elected unopposed to fill the remaining year of a term he was appointed to after the death of trustee Lois Fitzpatrick.