Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,
What a treat it’s been to watch our community celebrate our Capital High Bruin State AA Football Champs!
I’m so proud of this remarkable team of young athletes for an undefeated season, capped by a 35-14 victory over the Bozeman Hawks at Vigilante Stadium November 18.
Not only have the Bruins put a 12th State AA Football Championship under their belts, but they are the only school in any MHSA classification to win state titles in the 1970s (1978); 1980s (1987); 1990s (1993, 1996, 1999); 2000s (2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008); 2010s (2011); and 2020s (2022). Thank you to Activities Director Tim McMahon for sharing that fun fact. And thank you to Tim and Bruin Football Coach Kyle Mihelish and his outstanding team of assistant coaches for their work to make this year’s exciting football season possible.
Bruins and Bengals alike will present some stiff competition at the “City of Gold” (CHS) and “Tournament of Champions” (Carroll College) speech and debate competitions hosted here in Helena Dec. 2 and 3. Good luck to our teams and individual competitors! And a big thank you to the community judges who answered the call for volunteers.
Our public schools belong to all of us
One of the perks of volunteering – whether you’re a speech and debate judge, a Parent-Teacher Council member or a chaperone – is the opportunity to get a front row seat to observe your public schools in action. You’ll see firsthand how we’re using your taxpayer dollars to fulfill our district’s mission. Word for word, that mission is “to challenge and empower each student to maximize individual potential and become a competent, productive, responsible, caring citizen. This mission will be supported through the wise use of resources to meet students’ needs, regardless of interests and talents.”
I emphasize a phrase in that last sentence, “wise use of resources,” because these resources are provided by you, the taxpayer. You entrust our Board of Trustees and district administration with the massive responsibility of delivering a high-quality education to all children in our community, regardless of disability, income level, homelessness, health conditions, language and other factors.
We take that responsibility extremely seriously, hence our commitment to financial transparency. Over the next year, your Board of Trustees will continue to address the district’s projected budget shortfall. We each have a stake in their work, as each of us is a co-owner in this vital community asset.
This includes a staff of nearly 1,200 employees across 20 sites in our community. As with any large organization, be it a corporation, a not-for-profit, or a government entity, your school district’s budget is complex. Schools receive funding from a variety of sources based on a variety of factors such as enrollment and community income levels. Adding to the complexity are spending and reporting rules established at the federal, state and local levels to ensure that school finances are transparent and tax dollars are used as intended.
Are school district budgets complex? Absolutely. Are they impenetrable to the ordinary citizen? Absolutely not.
Know your district’s budget
I encourage you to visit the Helena Public Schools website, helenaschools.org, to familiarize yourself with the district budget. You’ll find resources to explore your school district’s finances in as little or as much detail as you like.
A great place to start is “A Citizen’s Guide to the Helena School District 2022-2023 Budget,” which provides a primer on Helena Public Schools’ funding sources. You’ll learn who makes decisions on how to spend district funding, how the district’s financial resources are allocated into various funds such as technology, transportation and building reserves, and a breakdown of what percentages are spent on salaries and benefits, utilities and other operations. If you wish to take a deeper dive, the district’s annual audit reports provide insights on budget trends, salaries for various classes of employees and budget forecasts.
Your school district follows legally required spending and financial reporting protocols to ensure transparency and protect you, the taxpayer. Our Central Office staff is happy to assist you with any budget and finance questions you may have. Please contact us at (406) 324-2002 or email@example.com.
Montana’s public schools belong to everyone, and we are committed to keeping you, the taxpayer, well-informed of every aspect of our operations, from the classroom to the boardroom.
Champions of Character
In an additional note on the athletic front, I want to thank the Carroll College Women’s Basketball Team for hosting elementary and middle school students from across the district to their game against Willamette University Nov. 21. Carroll offered the field trip through the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Champions of Character program, which aims to help kids build positive character traits through involvement in sports. As I noted last week, sports and other extracurricular activities are an essential ingredient in a well-rounded education. We’re grateful for the opportunity for students to see athletics at the collegiate level.
On the classroom side, the month of November brought a wealth of opportunities for elementary students to explore the arts.
Fifth-grade students at Jefferson Elementary had a special opportunity to learn about Native American culture and history last week during a visit from Montana Poet Laureate Mandy Smoker and Helena Poet Natalie Peeterse. Smoker and Peeterse shared the adventures of Aiyana, the heroine of their graphic novel “Thunderous.”
And this week, Bozeman-based author and illustrator Nick Mask visited Hawthorne Elementary to speak with K-2 classes about what authors and illustrators do and to share a few of his “Waffles the Adventure Cat” books.
Meanwhile, students and families at Central School enjoyed a new “Soup & Native Stories” event, to be held annually in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. Native American elders volunteered through the Helena Indian Alliance to lead the story-telling event.
In addition to developing appreciation for storytelling, reading and literature, these visits are opportunities to spark an early interest in potential career paths as students talk with working Montana writers
Students also had a performing arts opportunity this week as third through fifth grade classes districtwide went to the Helena Civic Center to see the Helena-based Cohesion Dance Project’s production of Shira Greenberg’s “Nutcracker on the Rocks.” Described as a community-based, rock-n-roll rendition of the classical “Nutcracker Ballet,” the production united dancers of all ages, skill levels and physical abilities, giving students a window into another art form that is accessible to all in our community.
Thank you to these generous Montana artists for sharing their time, talents and cultures with our students as well as the staff, volunteer chaperons and organizations that made these experiences possible.
Kissing a pig
This next accolade would certainly not qualify as art. In fact, it involved some not-so-artful application of red lipstick. I would like to commend four Rossiter staff members – Principal Dr. Wynn Randall, School Counselor Mary Anderson and Secretaries Denise Richards and Kristen Cetraro – for their bravery at last week’s kissing of the pig event. Amidst uproarious laughter from the Rossiter student body, each laid a big red smooch on the sweet face of “Carl” the pig. All told, they raised more than $1,000 smackers to purchase grocery store gift cards for Rossiter families in need.
It was an afternoon the students of Rossiter Elementary School won’t soon forget!
However, you don’t have to smooch a swine to support kids in our community. We hope donors go hog wild this Monday at the Angel Fund’s “On Broadway Night.” The Angel Fund helps well over 1,000 students each school year with back-to-school clothes, warm coats, athletic shoes, school supplies and scholarships. On Broadway will donate 50 percent of proceeds to The Angel Fund, and the evening will include a silent auction.
As we head into this holiday season weekend, Helena is all aglow. Whether you plan to tackle your shopping, admire holiday light displays or simply play in the snow, I hope you’re able to get out with your family and make some holiday memories.
Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools