Sunday, June 16, 2024

Kalispell Public Schools holds trustee election, asks for levies

| April 24, 2024 12:00 AM

Kalispell Public Schools is holding a trustee election and is asking for approval of two levies. School elections are May 7.

There are three seats open for three-year terms representing the elementary district. Candidates are Brian Putnam, Heidi Hickethier, Rebecca Linden, Reynolds Cameron and Sue Corrigan.

Trustees are volunteers representing the public and are responsible for making decisions that impact how schools operate and are held accountable. Duties include but are not limited to setting achievement goals, reviewing and adopting policies, annual budgets and educational programs and managing the collective bargaining process.

The Daily Inter Lake contacted school board trustee candidates in contested elections. The biographical information included was provided by candidates and edited for spelling, punctuation and format.

Kalispell Public Schools is asking voters to approve a high school general fund levy request and the renewal of an elementary technology levy “to maintain current staffing levels and programming.”

The high school general fund levy request is for $700,000. General fund levies cover costs related to the daily operation of schools and the education of students.

If approved, annual taxes would increase by $12.04 for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $300,000. The owner of a house with an assessed value of $600,000 can expect annual taxes to increase by $24.08. 

The school district is also asking voters to renew an elementary technology levy for $1,087,000. The duration of a technology levy is 10 years.

The technology levy would go toward funding technology costs related to safety (cameras, cyber security), parent communication (PowerSchool, Google classroom) and “learning tools for digital literacy (Seesaw),” according to the school district.  

If approved, the current tax rate of an existing technology levy that is set to expire June 30 will be maintained. The current tax rate stands at $45.77 for owners of homes valued at $300,00 and $91.53 for homes with an assessed value of $600,000.

For more information about the levies visit

Ballots must be received by the school district by Election Day and may be mailed or hand-delivered. 

Return ballots to the Auxiliary Administration Office at 514 E. Washington St., Kalispell. Call 751-3400 for more information.

Brian Putnam

Occupation: Retired mechanical engineer, former Montana State Representative and former School Board member in Rugby, North Dakota.

Education: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Montana State University Bozeman.

Background: I have a vested interest in School District 5. My daughter began her education at Elrod before we moved away to North Dakota for several years. When we were able to return, my son attended and graduated from Flathead High School. Soon, my granddaughter will be entering the school system in Kalispell, and I want to make sure that School District 5 is the first, best choice for her, and all other students within the district.

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I am running for the school board to help make sure that we have a healthy, successful school system in our community that allows kids to reach their full potential. My agenda is to ensure the school board has a vision of continuously improving the local school system. I believe that my background and experiences can help the district achieve that goal.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district you want to serve and how would you work to address it? Funding of schools is always a critical issue. The immediate issue for this district, and others around the state, is a sharp drop in funding due to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (Covid relief) expiring. This, combined with inflation, has a dramatic impact on the school budget. Luckily, SD5 did set aside a portion of this funding, so we are not facing as dramatic of a drop as some of the other districts.

A lot of the additional funding was earmarked for one-time costs, such as nurses and mental health counseling. Unfortunately, those needs still exist. In the coming year, the board has to consider how to constructively meet those needs. Some services might have to be cut or reimagined to deliver them in a more cost-effective way.

Long term, the school district needs to work with state lawmakers to make sure that they are aware of the effects they are having on the school district. Decisions made in Helena can have a significant impact on local school budgets, both good and bad. Therefore, having open lines of communication with lawmakers is imperative.

Heidi Hickethier

Occupation: Immanuel Foundation director.

Family: I have a wonderful husband of 30 years and two beautiful daughters. We are native Montanans with family all throughout the state.  

Education: I have a Master of Business Administration from Western Governor's University and a Bachelor in Business Administration and Communications from the University of Montana Western.

Background: I served at Kalispell Public Schools as the Parent Teacher Organization president at Russell Elementary School, the office manager at Edgerton, the executive assistant to the superintendent and I worked in the finance department. My most important role at KPS was being a mother of two daughters who successfully graduated. During the past 10 years I have raised funds for student scholarships, programs and capital projects at Flathead Valley Community College and to benefit low-income seniors in need at Immanuel Living. 

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I want to give back to the school district that gave so much to our family. I am enthusiastic and do not have an agenda. I work well with others and am interested in being a part of something bigger than myself to invest in our greatest resource, our kids. 

I have seen first-hand teachers, staff and administrators pull together to help students shape their future, no matter their gifts or challenges. This takes an all-hands-on-deck approach knowing each student has different educational, social and behavioral levels. I will use my skillset, enthusiasm and wide educational lens to serve at KPS as a trustee.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district you want to serve and how would you work to address it? Many school districts are facing considerable financial challenges today. I am hopeful that we will pass the upcoming levies for learning to invest in our community's future citizens.

During my career at KPS I witnessed teachers, staff and administrators stretch every dollar to make a difference for students. Each student is unique and requires several different resources to help them succeed. Some kids have supportive families who go above and beyond to help their kids graduate but some kids have no one else but the people at KPS to depend on for their education and their future. 

Utilizing resources to help kids reach their fullest potential while knowing that each child has different dreams, learning abilities and social skills is key to our success.  I look forward to getting back into the fold, working well with others and learning how I can best help us succeed.

Rebecca Linden (incumbent)

Occupation: Botanist, consultant.

Family: I have been married to Cris Jones Linden since 2005. We have two children in the Kalispell Public Schools, one in middle school and one in high school.

Education: My bachelor’s degree is in theoretical mathematics and my master's degree is in plant physiology.

Background: I have served on multiple boards, including the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. I personally have brought in experiences for students, including maypole dances, cooking seminars, and craft projects, have judged for speech and debate and science fair, and have provided awards for MathCounts, jazz band and theater.

I founded and sold Root Laughter Herbals, a sole proprietorship manufacturing business, and was director of the Montana Herb Gathering from 1998 to 2002.

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I have enjoyed my time serving as a trustee. I am running again because our district has undergone a lot of change, and research shows that school districts have the best student outcomes with consistency of school board members. Over two-thirds of our current trustees have served for less than five years, and we have had four superintendents, three clerks and two human resource directors in that timeframe. That is a lot of institutional knowledge lost. Without this institutional knowledge, some of our decisions going forward will be made without fully understanding why these policies were enacted in the first place. 

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? Rather than issues, I see opportunities. The very concept of what schools are, or should be, is changing. New ideas such as proficiency instead of seat time, or internships as well as classes, are entering the conversation. Navigating these issues with a sharp focus on the best interests of the students is the important, and fun, work we get to do. 

This takes communication.

We need to communicate with voters about how school funding is supposed to work. By law, the state funds 80% of what they imagine we need for basic education. Any money the state designates for education, including lottery receipts or marijuana taxes, goes toward that 80%. The remaining 20%, which includes anything above and beyond basic instruction, must come from locally funded levies.

In our high schools, we are currently funded at 2007 levels, but both the population of our district and the rate of inflation have grown since then, so that amount of funding is not sustainable. 

As a board member, I always keep a tight watch on the budget with an eye toward fiscal responsibility and treating budgets not as constraints, but as directing money toward our mission of ensuring positive student outcomes.

Reynolds Cameron

Occupation: Accountant and landlord

Family: My wife and I married 13 years ago in Oslo, Norway, where I was working in consumer behavior research and also as a substitute teacher for high school chemistry and mathematics. My wife was finishing her Ph.D. in breast cancer genomics. When she was offered a post-doctoral research position with Stanford University, we moved to San Francisco, where our three kids were born, 7, 9 and 11. In 2019, we started the move to Bigfork to be closer to my parents, relocating to Kalispell the next year. My three kids attend Hedges Elementary School. We are also the guardians of my niece-in-law, who is a junior at the Stillwater Christian School (which I highly praise).

Education: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); B.S. Lund University, Sweden; M.Sc. Fulbright Scholar University of Southern California, M.B.A.

Background: As an accountant with an M.B.A., investor, former scientist, former educator, landlord and licensed contractor, I believe I have the skills, ability and experience that is too lacking on the Board of Education.

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? Basically, to make my grandfather and four children proud. I will represent all families in the district. We need a school system that offers maximum opportunity to every kid, from average achievers to highly gifted or neurodivergent learners. Regardless of whether they attend public, private, parochial, or home school, they are constituents of School District 5 and our mandate needs to serve their interests so they are best suited to attain their life goals upon entering adulthood. School District 5’s new initiative for Personalized Competency-Based Education holds great promise, if implemented well.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? The Flathead Valley has been very generous for education spending. Last year, Kalispell residents passed a levy for the elementary district. Residents donated $734,000 directly to School District 5 through the Innovative Education Program. However, Helena mandates that these levies be renewed every decade, so voters are constantly asked to approve yet another levy. It has been a long time since the high school district passed a levy. Therefore, teacher staffing levels may be jeopardized if spending isn't better controlled and growth managed. 

You can't really disentangle spending, taxation and growth as distinct challenges. With thousands of housing units finishing construction over the next few years, smaller schools like Elrod and Russell will need to either expand their footprints in order to justify their higher per pupil fixed costs, or close. Failure to address the funding/spending issue has been a problem in the district since the Great Recession. The Board of Trustees needs new blood with experience in accounting, development and education to provide informed pushback. Too many trustees have been a rubber stamp for the policies that have gotten the district into financial peril.

Sue Corrigan (incumbent) 

Occupation: Retired teacher.

Family: Daughter graduated from Flathead High School. Husband, Ed Corrigan, retired Flathead County Attorney.

Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Montana, Recreation Resource Management; teaching certificate, K-12 special education; graduate studies, Political Science, University of Montana; National Board Certified Teacher of Students with Exceptionalities.

Background: Kalispell Public School Board trustee, five years; school board chair, two years; job coach, Flathead High School Special Services Department, 15 years; special education teacher and department dead, Flathead High School, 17 years; tennis coach, Flathead High School, 10 years; Conrad Mansion Board of Directors (past president), 18 years-plus; Glacier Conservancy Board of Directors (past president), seven years; Citizens Advisory Council, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, two years;  Office of Public Instruction Task Force for Chapter 55 (school accreditation); Office of Public Instruction Task Force for Chapter 57 (teacher certification); Montana School Board Association Board of Directors Kalispell representative;

Montana School Boards Association president-elect; volunteer judge for Speech and Debate meets; International Baccalaureate test proctor at Flathead High School; Flathead Valley Community College scholarship applications reader and volunteer judge for the Flathead County Science Fair.

Why do you want to serve as a trustee? I am running for reelection to the Kalispell Public School Board because I believe in the power of education to shape the future of students, families and our community. Students succeed and thrive when schools are able to prepare them for their future.  As a Trustee I focus on collaborating with community members and school staff to prepare all students for that future whether that be career, college, military or family. As an experienced trustee I plan to continue this ongoing journey toward strategic improvement and growth while preserving core values and innovating instruction to meet individual student needs.

What is one of the top issues facing the school district and how would you work to address it? Trustees’ three main responsibilities are to set the vision for the district, allocate resources and provide oversight. Kalispell Public Schools have a strategic plan addressing the core values of our schools and our community.  I will focus on achieving the goals of the strategic plan.  One crucial area of that plan is to strengthen community engagement in our schools.  As a trustee, I will share the wonderful things I see happening in our schools with my community. Trustees will be faced with a slim budget with which to provide a quality education for Kalispell students this year. I will strive to be transparent and accountable in my fiscal decision-making.  As a retired teacher, I am concerned with recruiting and retaining staff and will support our quality staff on all levels. I want Kalispell Public Schools to build bright futures for our students and I want to build it together with our staff, community and board. I want to see Kalispell Public Schools at the pinnacle of the list for student achievement, for staff support and for community engagement.

    Brian Putnam
    Heidi Hickethier
    Rebecca Linden
    Reynolds Cameron
    Sue Corrigan