Friday Update from Superintendent Weltz | March 8, 2024

Dear Families and Staff,

Later this month, our Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees will finalize the language for our May 7 election ballot.

In Montana, the responsibility for school funding is shared by the state and local voters. The model is designed so school districts must routinely ask local voters for approval of a portion of their budget, with caps in place to protect the taxpayer.

We’re fortunate to live in a community with a long tradition of voter support for our schools. This year, that support is more important than ever as AA districts across the state face multi-million budget shortfalls.

Billings is closing an elementary school. Missoula will lay off up to 100 staff. Kalispell could face a budget deficit of more than $3 million. Bozeman, meanwhile, faces a nearly $3 million shortfall.

Here in Helena, we’ve avoided such drastic cuts. We saw the fiscal cliff coming beginning in 2017 and adjusted accordingly, which bought us time. Our district shaved approximately $4 million out of our budget shortfall through larger class sizes, non-renewal of some teacher contracts, leasing of district facilities and other revenue and cost-reduction measures

But we’ve reached a tipping point. Without the passage of the levies on the ballot this spring, we can no longer sustain the level of staffing and student programming that our community has come to expect.

Why? As enrollment trends down in districts across the state, so does our state funding, which is largely based on the number of students enrolled.

Meanwhile, inflation has raised costs substantially for necessities such as heat, lights, waste disposal, liability insurance and custodial supplies. Yet inflationary increases are still capped at 3 percent under the state’s funding formula.

Simply put, our state school funding formula no longer keeps pace with expenses, even after we made adjustments.

We need action at the legislative level to revise the way we fund our public schools. Our AA superintendents are already preparing to work together with legislators on solutions.

On Monday, we’ll facilitate a visit by the Legislative Education Interim Committee, which will spend the day in our district, touring schools and engaging in discussions around our funding needs and other aspects of what it takes – in today’s world – to provide a quality education.

Then, on Tuesday, the Legislative Education Interim Committee and the Legislative Education Interim Budget Committee will hold a joint meeting – including a public comment period – at 4:45 p.m. at the Montana State Capitol, Room 317.

Those who would like to provide comment may attend in person, attend via Zoom (sign up for a link by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 11) or send written comment.

Meanwhile, we’re seeking levies to maintain the level of student programming and staffing that our community has come to expect for the 2024-25 school year. If passed, this critical funding would:

  • Provide student safety and security improvements
  • Support 21st Century learning technology
  • Provide long-term budgetary relief by diverting our growing safety and technology costs away from the General Fund, where the budget shortfall is centered.

In the following weeks, I look forward to sharing additional details.

At the end of the day, this discussion is about providing our students with the education they need to succeed in the workplace, in their communities and in their personal lives. That brings me to our student recognitions, which reflect the broad offering of opportunities and experience that we provide our students, and that we wish to continue.

Student & Educator Recognitions

Please join me in cheering on our Capital High Boys Basketball team, who won their opening round in the state tournament in Missoula yesterday evening and will face Missoula Sentinel tonight. Go Bru!

And congratulations to all who ended an excellent basketball season in tournament play, including our band, cheer and dance team members who spurred on our student athletes.

Our band students got to show off their chops with student musicians from across the state at the Montana AA Band Festival in Great Falls this week.

Also on the state stage, our Capital High Thespian Troupe recently earned “Best Costumes” in the Montana State Thespian Festival in Missoula. And a big congratulations to CHS Sophomore June Forsythe, who was appointed communications officer for the State Thespian Board, which includes all the social media for the festival. Behind the scenes was CHS Drama Teacher Laura Brayko who worked to make these growth opportunities possible for our students.

I would also like to recognize our Capital High School HOSA Club (health occupations), which collected 24 units at their 10th annual blood drive last month – enough to potentially save 72 lives. A total of 34 donors rolled up their sleeves, including six first-time donors.

Taste test healthy recipes at the Future Chef Challenge tomorrow

Looking ahead, students will go head-to-head – or toque to toque – tomorrow in the Sodexo Future Chef Challenge at Capital High School.

Sponsored by our district food servicers contractor, Sodexo, the event is an opportunity for students to compete in a timed, TV-style cooking competition.

Finalists were chosen for the event after submitting original recipes, which will be prepared, served and judged at a public tasting event tomorrow. The winner will advance to Sodexo’s National Future Chef Challenge. For those who would like to attend, the tasting event begins at 11 a.m. tomorrow, March 9, at Capital High School. Please use entrance #5 near the tennis courts. I look forward to announcing the winner next week!

Helena Education Foundation Distinguished Student Awards

Each year our students earn many local, state and national honors for their outstanding academic, athletic and personal achievements. Among the most cherished of these honors are the Helena Education Foundation’s Distinguished Student awards for graduating seniors. The recognitions are based on academic excellence, achievement, leadership or having overcome obstacles and are awarded in two categories:

Distinguished Scholars are selected on the basis of criteria, including GPA, number of high-level courses, total credit hours and activities.

Distinguished Achievers are nominated by educators and selected anonymously by an HEF committee.

Please join me in congratulating our 2024 HEF Distinguished Students, who were announced this week!

These outstanding students now get to nominate teachers who played a special role in their success for HEF’s Distinguished Educator award.

We look forward to recognizing all of our honorees at HEF’s Celebration of Excellence banquet later this spring.

 Community leaders trade places

On the topic of the Helena Education Foundation, I would also like to thank all who participated in HEF’s “Trading Places” event this week, which brought community leaders together to spend half a day in each other’s shoes.

I had the pleasure of trading places with Lewis & Clark County Commission Chairman Andy Hunthausen and appreciate the opportunity to get perspectives on county government. Capital High Principal Brett Zanto traded places with Carroll College Director of Financial Aid, who shared her experience in the college’s newsletter. (scroll to the bottom)

Other district administrators met with community leaders running the gamut from arts organizations, finance, healthcare, retail, military, construction and other sectors.

As the group gathered at Central Elementary School Tuesday to start the day, I was struck by how many of these organizations our district already partners with, many of whom we interact with throughout the school year.

Helena Public Schools Superintendent Rex Weltz, left, join-Lewis-Clark-County Commission Chairman Andy Hunthausen during HEFs Trading Places day.

Congratulations HEF grant recipients

I would also like to congratulate all of our educators whose innovative ideas were awarded with “Spark” and “Great Ideas” grants from HEF last week. From “Escape from the Science Room” to “Rocket Stove Welding,” these grants will fund one-of-a-kind learning experiences for our students.

I hope you have fun plans with your loved ones as we head into what’s forecast to be the warmest weekend so far this year. I’d even say it’s starting to feel a little bit like spring as we spring ahead on Saturday evening. Don’t forget to reset your clock!

Have a wonderful weekend.


Superintendent Rex M. Weltz signature








Rex M. Weltz, Superintendent
Helena Public Schools