Helena’s city commission is asking for a role in the Helena school district’s plans for a new bond to finance an array of improvements to elementary schools.

The commission's July 13 letter, which also urged the school board to immediately begin work on a new bond, comes after a proposal by Commissioner Andres Haladay in late June in which he said he sought commission's support for his draft letter.

Only Commissioner Matt Elsaesser didn’t sign the letter.

"I support the city of Helena working with the school board and school district on an ongoing basis to meet infrastructure challenges and to implement the city of Helena growth policy, regardless of the status of any bonds or potential bonds before the voters," he wrote in an email in response to a request for comment.

"I do not think it is appropriate for the Commission to take a formal position on bonds, nor to condition these discussions to any pending or potentially pending bond issue.

"I would like to see the city work more closely with other jurisdictions, including the school board, on a host of issues, including the construction of community facilities and public infrastructure," his email continued.

"For example, I think the city erred in not working with the school board and the county to provide water to Warren (school) several years ago to prevent kids from having to take two buses and reduce cost for that public facility. Additionally, I think we should be exploring community recreation facilities rather than the city just building their own parks facility given the current constraint on resources in this community."

Less than 46 percent of eligible voters participated in deciding the fate of the school district’s $70 million bond issue that failed in June with 58.35 percent opposed and 41.65 percent in support of it.

The bond would have allocated money for a new Jim Darcy, new Smith and mostly new Warren. It included $8 million to fully renovate Central School.

The bond also included renovations to the other elementary schools as well as $2 million for a district-wide communication system.

School district Superintendent Kent Kultgen didn’t immediately return calls for comment on the city commission’s letter.

Aidan Myhre, the school board’s chairwoman, said having the city commission involved would be an integral part of the process for a new bond issue.

The process of assembling a new bond issue is important, she said, as it would allow the school district to identify the better proposal for the community.

Having the Lewis and Clark County Commission and East Helena involved, as well as the city, would be important, she said.

While East Helena is not part of the elementary school district, it’s part of the kindergarten through 12th grade learning environment, Mhyre explained.

East Helena is part of the high school district, and the community’s high school students attend school in Helena.

The three local governments are uniquely positioned to bring different perspectives to the process of creating a bond, Myhre said.

“I think collectively we can all bring value to the table,” she said.

“The continued success of both the School District and the City of Helena are intertwined, and our relationship cannot be ignored when crafting a vision for the School District’s future,” the letter stated.

The letter noted the bond’s failure “across City neighborhoods, many of which normally support education measures by overwhelming majorities.

“Educational ballot measures succeed in the Helena Elementary School District only when the residents of the City support them. As such, the Helena City Commission is uniquely positioned to assist in crafting a future bond that both garners support of City residents, and reflects a vision that aligns with the city’s continued success,” the letter stated

Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com


I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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