Voters have decisively approved both building reserve levies put forth by Helena Public Schools.
With most ballots counted, around 60 percent of votes were cast in favor of the pair of levies for the elementary and high school districts, reversing the decision made by voters only six months ago.
“I'm obviously pretty excited,” Superintendent Kent Kultgen said Tuesday night, “but I’m also confident that it really showed the support that the community of Helena has traditionally shown for its schools.”
“It’s great to have that back,” he said.
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, the elementary levy led by more than 2,500 votes. Last May, a nearly identical measure fell narrowly, by a margin of 224 votes.
The high school levy saw an even larger turn in support from voters. It led by more than 2,200 votes, or around 57 percent. It failed by almost 1,200 votes last time around.
Kultgen said the votes show that efforts by school officials and supporters to communicate and be transparent with residents have paid off, describing the result as the renewal of the district’s partnership with taxpayers.
“An election is much more than passing a levy,” he said. “I think a group of supporters got out and got information out to the public. That's what we set out to do and the results of this election show that we're there.”
Over 17,000 ballots were cast in the county elections, for a turnout of just over 40 percent.
Board of Trustees chair Libby Goldes expressed gratitude to voters and said the results were “heartening.”
Goldes said the reserve funds are important in enabling the district to address building needs, “which are always expanding.”
The school levies will raise a total of $2 million annually for the next decade. The funds are put toward maintenance projects and other facilities needs for each of the district’s 20 buildings.
Proposed projects over the next five years include more than 20 roofing repairs or replacements as well as boilers, parking lot upgrades and a few portable classrooms.
With the passage of both levies, the district is now poised to move forward with larger building renovation and construction projects.
“It really takes the pressure off now that we know we're capable of creating that learning environment for our kids for the next 10 years,” Kultgen said.
“Now we can move on to the next step which is to get a successful bond campaign going,” he added.
“With this support from the public, which we greatly appreciate,” Goldes said, “We know that it's now time to move forward and address some of these needs, which would encompass all of the schools in the district.”
While Goldes said new schools at Jim Darcy and Central are at the front of trustees’ minds, she also said all schools within the district are being considered in its long-range plan.
“I want to stress that it's a total school community. All schools are on the plan, and over time will have the needs addressed,” she said, “on a continuing basis.”
In assembling a bond campaign in the coming months, Goldes acknowledged that the district will face another challenge in communicating and seeking “continued input” from community members.
Meanwhile, Kultgen thanked supporters for their support for the building reserve. “We’ll be good stewards of the resources they give us and focus on the academics for all of our children,” he said.