Dan Ellison

Ellison

A Thursday meeting of representatives from local governments and Helena Public Schools concluded with agreement that more communication is needed as the school district moves forward with a plan for another bond election. 

Voters in mid-June rejected the elementary school district’s $70 million bond proposal 58.35 percent to 41.65 percent after months of debate that left the community polarized.

The school district's Superintendent Kent Kultgen said he was interested in attending the monthly meetings held by city of Helena and Lewis and Clark County representatives. East Helena officials sometimes attend the meetings too. 

Attending these monthly meetings, Kultgen said, would help initiate greater communication among the jurisdictions.

Helena city commissioner Andres Haladay asked school trustees what subcommittees they might invite the city commission to participate in, and Kultgen said he would send the commission a list with meeting times to aid in a decision.

City Commissioner Dan Ellison suggested the city commission could appoint one of its members to be its representative for a school district subcommittee.

Lewis and Clark County Commission Chairman Andy Hunthausen said the county’s planning process would offer an opportunity for communication. The county is in the midst of a growth policy update. 

However, he noted, each jurisdiction has its own decision-making authority.

Jeff Hindoien, a former Helena city attorney who said he has also worked for the school district, facilitated the meeting and opened his presentation with a discussion of state law that defined each jurisdiction’s authority as well as noted some of the ambiguities in the law.

But the authority to make decisions for the school district rests with the district, Hindoien said.

There was no discussion on a proposal made by Alan Nicholson, a Helena developer who created the Great Northern Town Center, that an independent third-party team of consultants be hired to conduct a school facilities assessment.

While there was interest among members of the city commission, the county commissioners listened to Nicholson’s proposal without making a decision. 

Nicholson estimated $200,000 to $300,000 would be needed, although there has been no discussion on what any of the local governments would be asked to contribute.

A decision on whether the school district would be interested in participating in this proposed study would come after eight school district listening sessions aimed at gauging community goals for school facilities, he said. Six of these sessions are focused on seeking public comment, although the other two are also open to the public.

The first session will be at 6 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Ray Bjork Learning Center gym, 1600 Eighth Ave.

“It’s going to be a board decision as we work with our community,” Kultgen added.

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

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

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