School board won’t develop bond plan B

Helena Public Schools Superintendent Kent Kultgen outlined options for the school district at the board of trustees meeting Tuesday night in the event the proposed bond does not pass or the city does not approve plans to demolish Central School.

Kultgen said he acknowledged the need for discussing steps to prepare for if the bond does not go forward, but he didn’t want the board to move forward with specifics in order to avoid confusion.

Kultgen said that a backup plan would be difficult to develop. If the need arises for an alternative plan, Kultgen said, he wants to take the time to do it right and allow for community involvement.

The school district will have a pre-application with the city regarding the demolition of Central School and Seventh Avenue Gym Aug. 19, and then Kultgen said they must wait for an answer.

“I believe that you put in the time and effort to put out the plan before us and we need to wait and see if it goes through,” Kultgen said.

“That doesn’t mean we stop discussing the whole deal,” he added.

Instead of specifics, Kultgen put up PowerPoint slides detailing why the bond is needed and solutions for each potential scenario.

In the event the bond is not passed, potential alternatives included continuing to bus students, adjusting boundaries and continuing to operate without technology centers.

In the event the city does not approve the demolition of Central, Kultgen proposed several options for the board, including the board rehabilitating the school and continuing with the rest of the bond, delaying the Central decision until the next bond phase, shift focus to other elementary schools for renovation, maintain the closed school and continue to bus students to the Lincoln site or selling the school and the property.

Kultgen said that the notion of just redrawing boundaries to fix school overcrowding and facility disrepair is not viable.

Overcrowding at Jim Darcy and growth in the valley north of Helena means the only logical option would be to push students south. Kultgen said that would simply cause a ripple effect that would mean eventually overcrowding at a school farther north.

“In reality, trying to balance our schools through boundary adjustments is just the reintroduction of mass busing,” Kultgen told the board.

At Tuesday night’s meeting the board also unanimously passed budgets for the elementary and high schools.

When addressing budget questions the board raised, Helena Public Schools Business Manager Kim Harris told trustees the last “good years” when schools in Helena had plenty of money were the mid-1990s.

Since then, Harris said, she has been forced to find places to cut money and reallocate it. This year, Harris said, the board and Kultgen took promising steps that provided $500,000 in breathing room for events that arise during the year.

“I think for once I am very pleased with this budget,” Harris said.

Due to a decrease in property values in Lewis and Clark County, mill levies for elementary schools will increase this year, Harris said.

The board also discussed several items for first reading, including administration of medicine and foreign exchange student limits.

Barbara Ridgway, staff and student services administrator for Helena Public Schools, said the exchange student limit would keep the max at seven exchange students in each high school. That would ensure fair access to classes for all students, Ridgway said.

Trustee Betsy Baur pointed out that neither high school has hosted seven or more exchange students in recent years.

The board also unanimously passed a partnership with St. Peter’s Hospital that results in expanded care for educators who received medical coverage through the school district.

Educators can now make appointments for consultations at St. Peter’s Urgent Care facility, an option that is not available for anyone else.

The board hopes to expand that partnership in the future.

Read more at the Helena IR here.