Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,
In true Montana style, we’ve powered through another cold week without a hitch. I’d like to again thank our Transportation and Facilities teams for keeping our buses running, our classrooms warm and our walkways plowed.
These individuals brave the cold and dark every morning so we can safely start our school day, and we are grateful.
We’re fortunate to have gentler temperatures in the forecast next week, as our boys and girls basketball teams and their fans travel to the Western AA Divisional Tournament in Kalispell. Best of luck to our Bengals and Bruins!
Even as they prepare for this weekend’s tournament, the Bengal Boys and Girls basketball teams have taken time out this week to visit Bryant and Central elementary schools to help students with math and reading and play games. I hope you enjoy these photos from the boys’ team visit to Central School, which are the picture of true sportsmanship.
Last week I shared an update on the work around the district’s five-year budget forecasts. To recap, the district is facing a significant shortfall in its General Fund Budget, which is the account that pays for our schools’ day-to-day operations, including staff salaries and benefits (See the “Citizen Guide to the Helena Public Schools Budget”).
In anticipation of the shortfall, the district has made several adjustments, including offering early retirement incentives and directing any savings over the past three years to an Interlocal (savings) fund. These one-time savings are allowing the district to begin a two-year process to balance our General Fund by the end of the 2024-25 school year.
We’re analyzing all programs to determine possible delivery modifications. And, as I shared last week, the Board of Trustees has called for an annual regular election on May 2 to include an elementary district mill levy. While the mill levy wouldn’t close the budget gap, it would help lessen the impacts (a dollar figure for the levy request will be set later this spring, pending finalization of enrollment counts and other budgetary information).
In order to get a complete picture of the staffing level the district will be able to support in 2023-24, we need numbers that will be available later this spring such as retirements, resignations, the number of staff returning from or exiting for leaves of absence, student enrollment, and the outcome of the May 2 mill levy. Once those variables are known, the district will be able to determine a staffing plan for 2023-24.
I want to emphasize once again that the district’s overall goal in this process is to balance our budget with the least possible impact over the course of the next two years. To help inform this work, we want to hear your ideas. If you haven’t already, please visit this survey link before Tuesday, February 28, at 5 p.m. to share your thoughts and recommendations.
As I mentioned in last week’s message, the growing need for technology in the classroom has dramatically changed the teaching landscape and created new demands on resources. Technology has also transformed the way we measure student success.
For the first time this spring, the state is requiring schools to administer the ACT test online. The ACT is the standardized test that Helena Public Schools uses to compare our high school juniors with their peers at the state and national level. Many colleges and universities also use ACT test scores as an admission standard. Our Helena Public Schools juniors consistently test among the highest in Montana on the ACT in reading, English and math.
This year, our juniors will take the test electronically, which will require much of our high school staff to either proctor the test (ACT requires at least three staff proctors per testing room) or to provide technical support. In addition, the test must be administered on the district’s secure computer server, which creates logistical challenges in terms of testing locations and the availability of computer bandwidth for regular classes.
As a result, school will be optional for all freshmen, sophomores and seniors on ACT testing day, Tuesday, April 11. For students who choose to attend, activities such as tutoring, gym time, art projects, and shop projects will be available. Buses will run as usual and sack lunches will be available to order ahead of time.
School is mandatory on April 11 for juniors, who must be seated in their testing room by 8 a.m.
Your school will provide full details on plans for April 11 in the weeks to come. We appreciate your understanding as we accommodate this logistical challenge to our technology, bandwidth, space and staff resources.
Finally, I want to congratulate the outstanding work of eight Capital High Students who earned top honors in the Northwest College 2022-23 High School Photography Contest. Olivia Dewey took first place overall with her moving image “Generations,” while Raelynn Staley took second with her stunning “American Welder.” And thank you to CHS Photography Teacher Genevieve Anderson for helping these young artists reach new heights. See the full list of CHS finalists and semifinalists on our Student & Educator Recognitions page. All finalist and semifinalist entries can be viewed on the Northwest College website.
Enjoy the warmer weather this weekend!
Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools