Friday Message from Superintendent Weltz | April 14, 2023

Graphic Reading: Every School in Every Neighborhood. Helena Pubilc Schools 2023 Election Mail ballots go out April 14; Mail-in Ballots are due May 2.

Dear Helena Public Schools Families and Staff,

In last week’s Friday letter, I shared updates on our work to address the district’s projected budget shortfall. I also shared that, as we step up to meet these challenges, we’ll stay focused on what matters most – our mission to serve Helena’s children.

Above all, that means keeping your kids safe.

District Safety Manager Neal Murray oversees a broad range of security initiatives, practices and protocols, including enhanced safety training opportunities for staff, increased testing of emergency response systems and installation of technology, such as additional cameras and alarms that sound if a door is left ajar or not secured.

Some of these security measures have been in place for years while others are new as the result of a security audit the district commissioned last fall by Michigan-based Security Education Consultants (SEC). While this work isn’t always noticeable or even visible, it’s happening behind the scenes every day as part of our proactive approach to addressing today’s heightened security needs.

While these measures are in place for the protection and well-being of our students and staff, the fact that they are needed at all is difficult to think about. However, I want our district families and staff to be well-informed and to know that I consider the safety of our students and employees my highest responsibility.

Here is an overview of some of the safety projects and routines – both new and old – that the district has worked on throughout this school year.

Notification system upgrades

The district is in the process of installing new InformaCast emergency notification software that will allow alerts to be pushed out to staff via mobile devices, desktop computers and the district’s existing clock/alarm devices. This will help ensure that students and staff are immediately aware of emergency alerts, regardless of their location in a building.

Emergency response system testing

Helena Public Schools has begun testing the district’s emergency response system three times a year to ensure that the technology functions as needed in the event of a real emergency. The tests are conducted in coordination with police dispatch and include visits to schools to dial emergency codes from secretaries’ desks.

These systems lock doors, push out emergency alerts to students and staff, and notify first responders.

Several adjustments to these systems have been made this year, and we will continue to respond rapidly as issues are identified.

Cameras, electronic door fob system and door alarms

While students and staff were away for Spring Break, the district Facilities and Maintenance Team pulled wire to install additional cameras and equip all K-8 schools with electronic door fobs and door alarms.

  • Door Fobs: Electronic door fobs can be activated or deactivated at a moment’s notice. Among other security considerations, this ensures that staff can open all exterior and interior doors as needed for normal operations as well as during an emergency.
  • Door alarms: Door alarms sound loudly if an exterior door is left open or not secured.
  • Additional Cameras: Additional exterior cameras are being installed this spring on all elementary, middle school and high school campuses per recommendations from last fall’s safety audit. The cameras eliminate blind spots and ensure that all exterior entries are monitored, including those used by the community outside of school hours.

Active Shooter Training

The district will have conducted four active shooter trainings in coordination with the Helena Police Department by the end of this school year, with two more planned this summer. More than 60 Helena Public Schools staff members have participated in the one-day sessions, which include three hours of instruction and several hours of scenario-based training including hand-to-hand combat and the use of practice guns that fire blanks.

Led by the Helena Police Department, the training is held for groups of up to 25 staff per class and follows a national model used by the FBI.

The goal is to simulate an actual armed intruder incident to better prepare staff to respond to real-world scenarios. Helena Public Schools will conduct an additional training in coordination with the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office this spring and is seeking grants to add training opportunities next year.

The district also attended a table-top emergency response drill with Lewis & Clark County in February.

Trauma Kits

Helena Public Schools is developing a program to install severe bleeding trauma kits in buildings and provide training to school nurses.

Location signage

In response to safety audit recommendations, the district is enhancing location signage throughout its buildings to ensure that staff and students can communicate their exact location during an emergency, much like a driver would use mile marker signs to direct first responders to the scene of an accident.


Helena Public Schools has conducted 118 drills across its buildings this school year with 16 more scheduled before the last day of school to ensure that students and staff, along with facilities and supporting technology, are prepared for a range of potential emergency situations.

High School Safety Improvements

At the high school level, recent safety improvements include the installation of secure entry vestibules with locking doors and the installation of clock speakers that share emergency alerts in office areas. The previously noted installation of the InformaCast emergency notification software will allow high school classroom teachers and other staff to receive alerts on their desktop and mobile devices.

High School Safety and Security enhancements are a significant focus of the Master Facilities Planning process that is now underway. The resulting Master Facilities Plan will guide our strategy for future security projects.

While each of these safety initiatives is vital, equally important is fostering a culture of safety. Since the beginning of this school year, for example, the district has focused on communicating the importance of keeping doors closed and secure.

We’re seeing a marked cultural shift in the district as individuals recognize the responsibility we all carry – as students, staff and administrators – to understand and follow safety protocols.

While we won’t share all details of our safety initiatives and protocols for security reasons, we’ll continue to provide updates as we keep safety and security front and center.

Election Update

In another follow up from last week, a reminder that ballots for the 2023 Helena Public Schools are being mailed out by the Lewis & Clark Elections Office today.

Watch for your ballot to arrive in your mailbox or post office box within the next few days. The mail-in ballots are due May 2!

Helena Public Schools has Building Reserve Levies and a General Fund Levy on the ballot:

Elementary and High School Building Reserve Levies

The Building Reserve Levies are the main source of funding for the ongoing operation of school district buildings – everything from heating, plumbing and electrical work to maintaining rooftops and parking lots. The average age of our school buildings is 62 years, even when the district’s three new elementary schools are included. Building Reserve Levies allow for routine upkeep and maintenance of these buildings, as well as replacement of aging infrastructure such as electrical, plumbing, roofing, air handling and heating. For example, last year Building Reserve Levies were used to replace lighting systems at CR Anderson Middle School that were a fire hazard.

These funds allow for continued care and maintenance of our community’s investment in school facilities.

Elementary General Fund Levy

General Fund Levy dollars pay for everything from books and school supplies to staff salaries and benefits. The General Fund also pays for day-to-day operational costs such as electricity, natural gas, water and custodial supplies. These dollars pay for the district’s most fundamental operational needs.

Please visit our website to learn more about the Building Reserve and Elementary General Fund levies. You’ll also find information about how register to vote.

District Budget Survey Update

In recent letters I’ve shared the district’s approach to resolving a $6 million shortfall in the district’s General Fund Budget, the fund that pays for staff salaries as well as operational expenses such as water and electricity.

How did we arrive at this shortfall? In a nutshell, our public school funding mechanisms no longer keep up with expenses. Inflation has far outpaced inflationary adjustments to our state funding and, as we face rising costs, we also face new needs in areas such as technology and security.

My administration is leaning into these financial challenges with an open and transparent approach.

Next month, a working group called the Budget Recommendation Consensus Committee will be assembled to present recommendations for closing the budget gap to the Board of Trustees. The committee will consist of trustees, parents, community members, certified and classified staff, students, building and central office administration, and community and business leaders – a cross section of stakeholders in our Helena Public Schools.

As part of that process, the district conducted a Budget Reduction Survey earlier this spring to gather community and staff input on closing the budget gap to help inform the committee’s work.

We thank all who submitted the 414 survey responses received and have compiled them in the table below (some survey participants provided multiple recommendations, which is why you’ll see a higher number of recommendations than survey responses).

Many of the suggestions – such as relocating programs at the Ray Bjork Learning Center, larger class sizes, and seeking more grant funding – are already in place or in the process of being implemented. Others are new. All will be considered as the committee begins its work next month. Please watch for more details to come.

Finally, I want to wish our student musicians who are participating this week at the District Music Festival hosted here in Helena. Their performances never fail to impress, and I look forward to sharing photos and videos next week as well as additional Student & Educator Recognitions.

Have a wonderful weekend with your families. I hope you’re able to soak up some well-deserved sunshine!


Signature: Rex. M. Weltz

Rex Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools

Budget Reduction Survey Results Summary

Respondent Types:

Helena Public Schools Parent/Guardian: 249
Helena Public Schools Employee: 195
Helena Community Member: 158
None of the Above: 6
Helena Public Schools Student: 1

Budget Reduction Survey Results