Collaborating for A Comprehensive Plan and Workable Facilities Bond

Past Press

Helena IR Breaking News:
Voters Turn Down School Bond

June 18, 2015 — 8:19 pm

Voters turned down the $70 million infrastructure bond proposed by Helena Public Schools that took years to develop.

“Needless to say, we are disappointed that the bond did not pass,” Superintendent Kent Kultgen wrote in a statement. “It’s been a long process to get (to) today and we are grateful for the extensive public involvement on the bond. The majority of the community told us with their votes that they want something differently.”

With only provisional ballots left to count, the unofficial election results put 58.35 percent of voters against the bond and 41.65 percent in favor of the bond.

Read More

Letter to the IR Editor:
We Need a Good Plan, Not Winners and Losers

John Hart – June 18, 2015

In a way previously unprecedented, Helena and Lewis and Clark County residents have been engaged in an at times acrimonious debate about the present and future of Helena schools. I find this unfortunate: I have friends on “both sides.” I write as a parent, taxpayer, educator, and former planning director (community; college).  Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Debate isn’t about Hawthorne vs. Jim Darcy

Richard Weddle – June 17, 2015

I’ve read with interest several letters that seem to be pitting schools and neighborhoods against one another. We have to recognize that investing in our schools does not require the complete sacrifice of one school to prop up another.

For instance, Hawthorne doesn’t have to close in order to build a new Jim Darcy, and Jim Darcy kids don’t have to be bused into town in order to keep Hawthorne open. Just for perspective, only 13 children from Jim Darcy attend Hawthorne, while Hawthorne sends about 30 neighborhood kids to other schools.  Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Opponents Have Best Interest of Students at Heart

Tess Augustine – June 17, 2015

Folks who have pledged to avoid downtown businesses as a way of showing support for valley schools are in fact hurting the very schools that they are purportedly supporting. A strong commercial tax base is necessary to keep all of our infrastructure healthy, including schools.

I find it extremely troubling that folks who have taken a stance against this current school bond are being labeled “anti-kid and and anti-education.” This kind of negative branding is not the way to have a meaningful discussion. Facts and figures are there for everyone to see.  Read More

Helena, MT

Radio Spot:
Raise Taxes Today to Close Schools Tomorrow

Click to Listen

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Divides the Community, is not a good solution

Laura Ferguson – June 16, 2015

What is this school facilities bond doing to our community?

On both sides of this bond are good people who want better schools for our kids. Both sides include long-time education advocates, parents, former educators, business people and homeowners. Everyone wants to resolve the school facilities problem.

What’s wrong with this picture?

First, our strongest advocates for schools are split over this bond. How good is any “solution” that generates such profound disagreement between the people in our community who have consistently supported our schools? If a bond really did do right by all our schools, wouldn’t these dedicated education advocates be united behind it? Read More

Helena, MT

Op-Ed in the IR:
Let’s Not Make A Hasty Decision By Passing Bond

Darryl James – June 16, 2015

Some of the online chatter, letters to the editor, fliers and phone calls regarding the school bond should raise an eyebrow. The lack of data from the district, and the histrionics from proponents and opponents alike has cultivated little but a field of noxious weeds.

Proponents, opponents, valley and in-town parents have expressed valid concerns, but their conclusions are predominantly based on emotion, not fact. Consider the following: Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Consolidation is the Goal; Vote No on this Bond

Keith R Johnson – June 16, 2015

This bond calls for the demolition of Smith Elementary and for construction of a 400 seat, $14 million facility in the same location. It is neither necessary or wise. The recent facilities study by Mosaic Architecture described Smith school to be in “overall good” condition, and recommended only minor changes to it. Its immediate enrollment area had 223 students, with no need of 400 seats, nor replacement of the building.

Curiously, this bond also gives lower funding to several of the small neighborhood schools — lower than their needs identified in the Mosaic study. Yet it over-allocates funds to the larger schools by millions of dollars.  Read More

Helena, MT

Op-Ed in the IR:
Helena Can Avoid Billings’ School Problems

Kathy Aragon – June 15, 2015

Regarding your school bond, many believe that something is better than nothing. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. School siting (opening/closing) decisions have far reaching financial and social impacts on a community. You either “pay to plan” now, or you find yourself, like Billings, “planning to pay.”

Billings recently voted for $122 million in funds with freight train-like urgency due to overcrowded classrooms. Citizens were told we’re 800 students over capacity now and 1,200 more students are coming. The fact is that as student population had risen, just as it has done multiple times over the past 40 years, we have fewer teachers … we were not hiring teachers at the pace we should have due to lack of funds. It was far more a budget issue than a space issue. In fact, we have a neighborhood school, Rimrock Elementary, closed in 2001, that still sits empty right in the middle of town.

The superintendent promised repeatedly that no schools would close, and that he wouldn’t open a school he couldn’t afford to operate. But, reality is now setting in.  Read More

Letter to the IR Editor:
District Needs Long Term Plan

Dave Highness – June 12, 2015

There a lot of things that rankle me about the current school bond but none more than the lack of a long-term comprehensive plan. The school district actually paid for and the community spent a great deal of effort creating a good plan, but after the board and superintendent approved and paid for it they dismissed it as unworkable. They don’t want to be “constrained” by a plan! Instead they have created a “vision” statement that they say will guide what they do, as though you can’t change a plan. Huh? Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Isn’t Sufficient to Address Needs

Patty Hartman – June 11, 2015

Last night I received a scripted phone call encouraging me to vote yes for the school bond. The caller said this bond would prevent “emergency closures like the one at Central School.”

Wait a minute, don’t we need to fund deferred maintenance in order to ensure safe conditions for our children and prevent emergency closures? The superintendent’s final facilities plan, dated Feb. 20, removed deferred maintenance from the previous plan, in order to lower the total bond amount. As a result, the bond allocation for several of the elementary schools is not enough to address the identified needs, and none of the deferred maintenance at the middle schools will be funded. The previously-approved facilities maintenance levy will not cover these needs. How can the Helena School District justify this K-8 bond plan?

It’s truly a sad day when I feel compelled to vote no on a school ballot issue, but today, that’s what I did.

Helena, MT

Radio Spots:
Tip of the Iceberg: Vote No

Pam Attardo
Tip of the Iceberg Radio Spot: Vote No Pam Attardo

Darryl James
Tip of the Iceberg Radio Spot: Vote No Darryl James

Letter to the IR Editor:
This Bond is Not the Answer

Tina Bernd-Cohen – June 8, 2015

I am in favor of spending more money to support our high school, middle school and elementary school education facility needs. But this bond is not a good start. Why?

  • It lacks a vision and long-range plan that looks at all facilities.
  • It does not start where are greatest problems are — middle schools.
  • It calls for spending money on elementary schools that will be closed or converted to administrative buildings, wasting limited resources needed elsewhere.
  • It will lead to closure of downtown neighborhood schools.
  • It will threaten what we value, small community elementary schools that are walkable and vest us in our local neighborhood community.

If it takes more work and more funds to get to the right solutions for all our schools, so be it. Do not waste our money on this bond when what we need is a long-range approach that will serve our children’s education facility needs well into the future.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Creates Too Many Winners and Losers

Nancy Nicholson – June 7, 2015

The school bond issue that we have before us creates big winners and big losers within our school district.

The winners will be those students who will attend new or intensively renovated schools with healthy ventilation, good light, flexible spaces and furnishings, modern playgrounds and capacity to host new technology.

What’s wrong with this rosy winning scenario is that it will apply to fewer than half of all our K-8 kids.  Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Walkable Communities Important, Vote No on Bond

Kelly Lynch – June 4, 2015

A majority of Americans are now actively seeking out – and paying higher prices and taxes to live in – walkable, vibrant communities with convenient access to schools, work, shopping and other amenities. Helena is well-situated to attract the millennial workforce and baby-boomer retirees with its unique historical character, walkable urban neighborhoods, and first-class outdoor recreation.

Just last month, the National Assocition of Realtors reported that “walkable urban areas are the future of real estate development.” James Corless, director of Transportation for America, cuts to the chase: “The talented young workforce that every region is trying to recruit expects to live in places where they can find walkable neighborhoods with convenient access to public transportation. Providing those travel and living options will be the key to future economic success.”  Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Mixed Message Don’t Change the Facts, Vote No on Bond

Liz Campbell – June 4, 2015

The day after the school board voted to put this bond on the ballot, the IR ran an article called “School bond wouldn’t cut operational costs as hoped.” Below are excerpts about the bond from that Feb.19 article:

  • The bond “…would not save operational expenses that could be reinvested in educational resources as hoped. Trustee Baur said those operational costs factored into her dissenting vote. “I think it’s going to create incredible financial hardships on the district,” she said.”
  • “… it relies on school consolidation in the future, Kultgen said.”
  • “Baur was also taken aback during Wednesday night’s meeting when she learned Kultgen and fellow Trustee Terry Beaver had heard of potential interest in buying Central School.”

Read More

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Won’t Address Today’s Needs

Janet Andrew – June 3, 2015

I have some real concerns about the school bond. The plan overbuilds 900 more seats than there are K-5 students in the district, and 700 more than are ever projected to live here. Why are we funding future imaginary friends when our current kids have real needs in their schools?

Here’s one example of overbuilding: Warren and Smith would get eight times as much in bond proceeds as Bryant, Hawthorne and Kessler combined. Yet, Warren and Smith have fewer kids in their attendance areas. Why add 200 extra seats at Smith and 100 extra seats at Warren? Three hundred imaginary children will get a great school. But 612 actual, real, live students at Bryant, Hawthorne and Kessler will get a school that still has millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and life/safety issues not covered in this bond.

The administration says they are overbuilding for special programs. What I’ve heard them talk about for the last three years is closure and consolidation and how our operating budget isn’t big enough to pay for more programs. Let’s do right by all kids — especially the real, live, breathing ones. Vote no on this bond!

Helena, MT

Education News Article in the IR:
Business Improvement District Takes Stance Against Bond

Al Knauber, Independent Record – June 3, 2015

The Helena Business Improvement District is joining the opposition to the Helena school district’s plans for a $70 million bond to fund an array of school improvements.

Ballots are being mailed to voters Wednesday and are due for counting by 8 p.m. June 18.

Ballots can be mailed back to the county or dropped off at its elections office in the City-County Building on Park Avenue or taken to the school district’s offices in the May Butler Center, 55 S. Rodney St.

The Helena Area Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the bond proposal.

“Opposing this bond was a very difficult decision for our Board to make,” the May 29 Business Improvement District letter to school district Superintendent Kent Kultgen stated. Read more.

Op-Ed in the IR:
School Bond Would Be Bad for Downtown

Helena Business Improvement District Board of Trustees – June 2, 2015

As Helena voters consider the upcoming School Bond, it is fair to say that we all want what’s best for our children. It is now recognized that when planning school facilities, what’s best for children is inseparable from what’s best for their communities. Successful school planning must occur in conjunction with community planning. As advocates and facilitators for the vitality of downtown Helena, The Helena Business Improvement District understands that the health of downtown is tied to that of the surrounding neighborhoods. We are concerned that the Helena School District has created a facilities plan that does not support healthy walkable neighborhoods, is detrimental to downtown and will further push development outside the city limits.

Contemporary school siting guidelines consistently cite the benefits of walkable, neighborhood schools to student health and performance, as well as to their communities. It is typically recommended that elementary schools be located so that most students are within a one-half mile walk distance. We are fortunate that this is, in fact, how Helena’s in-town elementary schools are laid out. Yet the vision behind the proposed bond would ultimately shutter most of these schools for consolidation into two massive elementary schools, to be housed in the repurposed C. R. Anderson Middle School and Helena Middle School. Existing high schools are to become middle schools; and new high schools are to be built somewhere outside of town. Read More.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
School Bond Proposal Misses the Mark

Elizabeth Kohlstaedt – May 31, 2015

Those of us who are fierce proponents of neighborhood schools and those on the school board no doubt want the same thing: quality schools that prepare our children to be active participants and leaders in our community and in the nation.

It isn’t the technology, or the size of the gymnasium that enhances a child’s education. Research in vastly different communities — in West Virginia, California, Alaska and Montana — finds that smaller schools correlate with improved student test scores (even mitigating the effect of poverty), reduced violence, increased parental contact and increased teacher satisfaction. Why? It is relationships that make the difference in our lives. We want to know our teachers and other parents, and have our children be in schools to which they can walk safely.

The proposed school bond on the surface seems to invest in our local schools, but it is misleading. Superintendent Kultgen has said publicly that his intention is to convert several of the schools into administrative offices in the long run. What is the point of investing money in buildings? I want the funds invested in communities. I encourage a “No” vote in the upcoming bond. Let’s ring that bell when the intention matches the investment.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Laura Ferguson – May 27, 2015

On May 15, Superintendent Kent Kultgen told the Independent Record that “everything we’re doing is super transparent” regarding the school facilities bond.

Here’s an example of “super transparent”:

On Jan. 9, the School District Community Advisory Council discussed what to do about Central and if it could be a school again. A member said, “The district is having someone look for other opportunities for Central.” Kultgen asked if it could be used for administration and a school, but they determined it was not big enough and discussed what it would take to make Central salable. According to the meeting’s minutes, Kultgen said, “There are people interested in the land.”

At the Feb. 18 school board meeting, a trustee mentioned the possibility that Central could be sold, indicating there was active interest. Betsy Baur asked, “What about transparency?!” and said if there was interest in buying or selling Central, why didn’t the rest of the board know about it? Kultgen responded by saying it was just talk, as if he and other board members had not seriously discussed it a month earlier.

Now Kultgen claims Central will be a school again — but the bond proposal document says “the Central facility could be used for another district purpose or sold.”

Super transparent!

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Vote No on Kultgen’s Closure Bond

Danna Jackson – May 25, 2015

Raise my taxes to tear down my school? No thanks. The superintendent’s closure bond will cost taxpayers $70 million. Remarkably missing from this proposal is money for our overcrowded junior high schools — not one dime. Instead the bond calls for expenditures for millions to create classroom space for 4,200 K-5 kids (compared to 3,319 K-5 kids enrolled currently). The superintendent publicly said that Bryant, Kessler, Central and Hawthorne will be closed, yet the bond proposes that we pour millions into these schools. If approved, the school district bond would add $64.51 a year in taxes for a property with a market value of $100,000.

We can do better. Helena can formulate a bond that recognizes the value of our neighborhood schools while also upgrading our infrastructure for the 21st century. Vote no on this irresponsible tax-and-close bond. Only then will this school board be responsive to the people’s wishes. Helena voters will support a bond that actually solves problems without destroying schools that have been the heart of neighborhoods for decades. This is not that bond.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Helena Needs A Different, Better Bond Proposal

Barbara Rush – May 25, 2015

When my husband ran for the school board recently he participated in a debate held by the Independent Record. In that debate he said that he could not support $8 million for Central School as it was going to be turned into an administration building by 2022.The IR reported only the first part of this quote, leaving people to believe that he was not in support of Central School.

I am not alone in believing that the purposes of this school bond are not straightforward. There are many examples to realize that the current bond closes and/or repurposes schools. One example is that this bond calls for overbuilding by 758 seats. This amounts to approximately three schools! Ellen Feaver, a proponent of the bond, states (IR May 14) that the extra space is for programs. That’s an awful lot of programs. Read More.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Too  Many Questions to Pass Bond

Teresa Augustine – May 25, 2015

The current school board proposal is a thinly veiled attempt at consolidation. Read the bond proposal carefully and look at the distribution of monies to various elementary schools. There is no mention of monies for deferred maintenance/life safety issues in city schools that have been neglected for the last 30 years or so.

Kent Kultgen has said that he expects to close Kessler, Hawthorne and Bryant schools. He also plans to change the to-be-renovated Central school into an administrative building in five years. That is after spending $8 million in renovation! Read More.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Current Bond Proposal Is Too Hazy

Tim Chamberlin – May 24, 2015

Let me preface by saying that my family has four generations of public school teachers. We believe strongly in the value of education and supporting public schools. Still, I have grave reservations about the current bond proposal.

It is well established that we have facility issues with both inadequate space and outdated infrastructure at our elementary, middle, and high schools. However, the trustees have not committed to a comprehensive plan or clearly explained how this bond fits. To proceed without a comprehensive plan will certainly result in wasted taxpayer dollars and unacceptable results. Why would we spend $8 million on Central School to then close it when students are moved to the remodeled middle school? Why would we spend $2.7 million on Jefferson School (including a new gym) and then turn it into administrative offices? Taxpayers cannot be expected to blindly support a bond that amounts to “trust us, we know best and it will all work out.” Read More.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
A Review Is Needed on How the Bond Discussion Has Developed

Cheryl McKenty – May 24, 2015

In a recent paper, Bruce Newell calls for “a better planning process that engages parents, neighborhoods…furthers discussion, understanding and compromise.” I believe that, towards the end of the school bond debate, Monica called for a similar path, to which a bond proponent quipped that “that has already been tried and didn’t get anywhere.” This does seem to ring a bell, but I am fuzzy enough to need my memory refreshed.

If most Helenans are like me, I think we could all use a comprehensive detailing of the efforts made by administrators, educators, and committee volunteers thus far. I would be able to trust the people at the IR to thoughtfully and thoroughly put this together. It would serve to give voters a more accurate picture of what “starting over” might look like (not that it couldn’t be the best choice).

I will keep my eyes peeled, and sooner rather than later would be greatly appreciated!

Helena, MT

Education News in the IR:
‘In for the Long Haul’: Campaign Against School Bond Has Alternative in Mind

Alexander Deedy – May 21, 2015

The citizens involved in a campaign against the Helena school district’s June facility bond election say they’re not opposed to facility work; they’re against this specific bond.

The “All Kids Matter” campaign filed as a Ballot Issue Committee on May 11, according to records from the state office of the Commissioner of Political Practices.

“I think our main goal is to educate people,” Laura Ferguson, a committee member and parent of a student at Broadwater elementary, said.

“I think if people realize what the long-term implications of what this bond are, they will not want to vote for it,” she added. Read More.

Letter to the IR Editor:
Vote No on the School Bond

Paddy Ferriter – May 21, 2015

Transparency? Then why isn’t there a list of targeted schools to be closed if the bond passes? Why was the language of the bond changed at a closed “executive” meeting? Why are comments previously made suddenly denied? If this is your idea of transparency, I need to get better glasses.Vote no.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
Bond Proposal Promotes Sprawl

Bob Balhiser – May 19, 2015

The entire school bond facility issue is a bit confusing to me, in part, because: 1) my kids never attended Helena schools and I thus have no first-hand knowledge of the logistics involved, and 2) I do not believe the proposed concept has been coherently explained by those promoting the plan.

However, Alan Nicholson made an argument in the debate that finally made some sense. He said the bond would make lopsided investments to schools on the edge of town and drive new families to those areas while only providing a Band-Aid for in-town schools.

This is how I interpret Alan’s comment — the current bond issue will basically encourage urban sprawl while promoting further deterioration in the central city. So, if that is the case, I would be inclined to vote no on the current bond and send the promoters back to the drawing board to produce a better plan.

Helena, MT

Letter to the IR Editor:
A Thinly Consolidated Plan

Alan Nicholson – May 12, 2015

Those who think the upcoming School Facilities Bond will save neighborhood schools better get informed! $62 MILLION DOLLARS will be spent on creating three large, modern schools in the Valley and at Smith and Four Georgians plus upgrades to Central and a new district-wide phone system.

This leaves $8 MILLION DOLLARS to be spent on ALL SEVEN remaining K-8 schools where more than half of our kids go to school. This is less than the District’s estimate of $27 MILLION DOLLARS for Deferred (undone) maintenance on these schools. $8 MILLION is the same amount allocated for Central alone and less than half the $18 MILLION the new Jim Darcy will cost. Does this seem reasonable to you?

Two of these, the overcrowded, unsafe, unhealthy and deteriorating Middle Schools (7th, 8th & 9th grades), will get nothing. Zero. Zip. They will likely school 1,600 of our kids each year for 7-10 years before any improvements will be made to them.

If this plan is implemented, there will be classroom space for 4,200 K-5 kids. There are now 3,319 K-5 kids in the Elementary District. The Superintendent has publicly said that Bryant, Kessler, Central and Hawthorne will be closed.

Not a Consolidation Plan?

1 Quarry Lane
Helena, Montana – 459-8492 cell or 443-5761 home

Letter to the IR Editor:
We Need A Community Engagement Approach for Bond

Bruce Newell – May 15, 2015

Regarding the school district’s one facilities planning processes: I know that our school buildings are (pick all that apply) in the wrong place, too full, not full enough, out of date and not designed for supporting today’s students’ needs, etc. Clearly something needs to be done, but first we need a plan that meets our students’ needs and is likely to be funded. The problem is, the way we’re pursuing a plan and funding isn’t informing voters or building community-wide agreement about what needs to be done.

Coming in early June, Helena voters will choose (or not) an elementary facilities plan with any two of the following three attributes: good, fast or cheap. For example, we will have good schools and bring our facilities up to snuff quickly, but it will be expensive. Or, we will improve our buildings in a year or two, and do it inexpensively, but we won’t have built to last. Finally, we will have built good buildings, inexpensively, but it will have taken forever to get the job done.

How do we balance good, fast and cheap, and end up selecting the best plan for retooling all of district one’s facilities (including the high schools)? We need a better planning process, one that first engages each school’s parents and neighborhoods, then after each school’s needs are understood and agreed upon by each school’s parents and community, will after further discussion combine (through understanding and compromise) to arrive at a consensus K-12 district-wide plan.

I am not arguing for or against the coming elementary facilities bond, or for or against school consolidation. I’m suggesting that with the right process, all this will sort itself out. With the right process, Helena parents, educators, and voters should be able to arrive at a workable plan.

I hope that the district, eventually, takes the time to fully engage parents and neighbors in a community wide, consensus-building process. From a process that truly engages the entire Helena community, an improved understanding of each school’s needs will develop, with hopefully a district-wide consensus plan for revitalizing school facilities. We’ll end up with what we need and want: a student-centered, fundable district-wide facilities plan.