Weigh in on latest school plan

The Helena School Board and superintendent Kent Kultgen are once again nearly ready to unveil another plan on addressing student displacement and long-term building upgrade issues around the district.

This plan, unlike those in the past, will take a comprehensive look at the district’s building needs and call for two new high schools, remodeling existing middle schools along with building or renovating elementary schools. The plan, as it stands now, would be completed in two stages requiring two different bond elections.

The details of the plan are still being worked through and will be presented to the school board’s facilities committee on Jan. 6. At that time Kultgen will release the financials for phase one, which would call for the building of a new Jim Darcy Elementary school, renovated or rebuilding Smith and renovations to Warren, Broadwater, Jefferson, Rossiter and Four Georgians, along with safety and technology fixes to Bryant, Central-Linc, Kessler and Hawthorne.

Phase two of this plan would be building new Capital and Helena High schools, remodeling the existing high schools to be middle schools and remodeling the current C.R. Anderson and Helena Middle Schools to be elementary schools. Implicit in this plan is the consolidation of Kessler and Hawthorne Elementary schools into what is now C.R. Anderson Middle School and consolidating Central and Bryant Elementary schools into what is now Helena Middle School. This would also involve redrawing district boundaries.

This is an ambitious plan, and in a meeting with the IR Editorial Board on Tuesday, Kultgen and assistant superintendent Greg Upham both said they feel like this gives the community the best way to move forward to address the needs of the students.

The fact is, Upham told us, Helena students’ academic performance is hindered by the facility problems the district and the community have been wrestling with for the several years. One of the ways to realize academic improvement is to create learning environments that are comfortable, safe and modernized. This plan accomplishes that goal, he said.

Ultimately, that is for the community to decide. Both phases of the plan will require community support in the form of passing a bond levy. Kultgen’s goal is to have a bond issue before voters this late spring or early summer, which means the facilities committee and school board will need to move quickly to approve a plan.

We’re anxious to hear from the community about this most recent proposal. It’s been a long road to get here, and we’ve been through a variety of different plans. Sometimes it has seemed like the school board isn’t listening to the community and at other times it has felt like they were too sensitive to criticism and complaints. But all along a comprehensive plan was necessary so voters could clearly understand what their tax money would be going toward and how the community and families would be impacted.

This is a major facilities plan for the school district and the community. And it’s important we get this right because our kids will have to live with these decisions for decades to come. As we’ve said in the past, the status quo here is no longer an option. Something needs to be done to improve our school facilities and educational environment.

Kultgen told us this plan reflects comments he has heard from the community and the needs of the district and students. But there’s still opportunity to voice your opinions. The school board facilities committee meeting on Jan. 6 is open to the public and so is the school board meeting Jan. 15. Now is the time to make your voice heard about this plan.

But it’s also time to move forward and settle on a plan that will give our kids the best learning environment possible.

Helena IR Editorial