Local schools highlight needs, successes

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Flathead Valley Community College and Kalispell Public Schools hit the high points on programs and funding at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon Tuesday.

Chris Clouse, vice president of academic affairs at Flathead Valley Community College, highlighted how the school tailors education to the community’s workforce needs through different approaches.

Some of those approaches include expanding opportunities to obtain a bachelor’s degree while remaining in the valley through partnerships with four-year universities. One of those examples is in elementary education, where a student completes a combination of online and face-to-face classes taught by University of Montana faculty.

Apprenticeships are also an area the college continues to explore based on feedback from area businesses.

“We’re also experimenting with an HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] apprenticeship. We were approached by five HVAC companies here in the valley that have a hard time attracting good workers, so we developed a whole set of classes,” Clouse said. “We actually have a mini HVAC unit in our occupational trades building, so the students come in the evenings, take classes and go back to their place of employment.

“We think apprenticeships have a bright future and we’re working with different companies to try and see if we can expand those programs,” she told the Chamber audience.

In targeting the needs of the working student, the community college has implemented alternative class schedules where the 16-week semester is condensed into eight weeks.

“We find a lot of students lose momentum throughout a 16-week semester. Life happens,” Clouse said. “So a student goes to school a little bit more often and longer, but they’re done with a class within eight weeks.”

The college is also working to meet the interests of future workforces and industries. In recent years the school has tapped into the gaming industry.

“Another program that is fast growing is computer science and gaming,” she said. “Gaming may sound like fun, but it’s really a lot about coding and problem-solving. We have over 25 students who’ve declared that major without even offering it for about a year and a half.”

In wrapping up her presentation, Clouse gave an update on the One campaign, which launched in January 2018 to raise $18 million in private funds to build the new library and commons, which is under construction. Currently, $17.2 million has been raised she said. A soft opening is slated for May.

Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau provided a summary of a $1.2 million general fund high school district levy that will appear on ballots in May.

The Kalispell Chamber supports the measure.

“Our board of directors take pride in running a lean, but a very quality program, and again, we would not be here today talking about a levy if we did not think it was absolutely necessary,” Flatau said, noting the request follows a nearly $1 million budget cut over the current and last school years.

The levy will fund operation costs such as technology, activities, curriculum/textbooks, safety and security, salaries and utilities in the district’s two high schools, Flathead and Glacier; three alternative high school programs housed in Linderman Education Center; and the H.E. Robinson Vocational Agriculture Center.

Students served include Kalispell and 13 surrounding partner districts whose students go on to attend the high schools.

He emphasized that “bonds are for building, levies are for learning.”

“You can only spend bond dollars to build buildings. As soon as we accept that building and occupy it, it becomes [an] operational expense. That’s really where our levies support the general fund,” he said.

A general fund levy hasn’t passed in the high school district since 2007. In that time, Flatau said inflation has risen by 22 percent; the two high schools absorbed 333 more students — or a “small Class A school district in Montana,” and the district facility footprint grew.

“Between the ag center and Flathead High School we’ve added 56,000 square feet that will be coming online in the next year or two ... Interestingly, 56,000 square feet is the size of Rankin Elementary, so it’s like adding an entire new school to the footprint,” Flatau said.

The levy would take the high school district to 97 percent of the maximum allowable budget if approved by voters, keeping in line with the elementary district — and below other AA schools in the state.

If voters approve the general fund levy, owners of homes valued at $200,000 could anticipate an annual tax increase of $25.71.

If the general fund levy does not pass, Flatau said $1.2 million would be cut from the budget.

A mail ballot election will be held. Ballots are slated to go out April 22 and must be received by the school district at 8 p.m. May 7.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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