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School election results: Kila, Smith Valley bonds rejected

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | May 8, 2024 4:00 PM

Voter turnout was high and votes were close in multiple school elections Tuesday.

The following preliminary results are unofficial until each respective school board canvases them.

Kila School and Smith Valley School each had bond issues on the ballot that did not pass.

Kila School

Kila voters shot down an $8 million bond issue to expand the school in a 103 to 516 vote. 

There were 1,201 ballots issued with 619 returned. About 52%

The 20-year bond would have funded an addition to the middle school wing to accommodate growth at the rural K-8 school.

If it had been approved, owners of a home with an assessed value of $300,000 would have seen annual taxes increase by $434.97, or $724.95 for a home with an assessed value of $500,000.

Kila school board chairwoman Amanda Chin responded in an email to the Daily Inter Lake’s question of what the district’s next steps will be. 

“Unfortunately, there is no quick answer to your question. The needs of the school are unchanged, and the needs of the community are unchanged. Montana schools do not receive funding for major construction projects or major repairs. Community members clearly communicated they do not have the resources to pay for large school bonds,” Chin said.

Smith Valley School

Smith Valley voters rejected a $1.8 million bond issue to rebuild a facility that was gutted to remove mold and asbestos. The measure failed 239 to 361. 

Six hundred votes were cast out of 1,239 ballots. About 48%

If the bond issue had been approved, owners of homes with an assessed value of $300,000 would have seen an annual tax increase of $26.01, or $43.35 for owners of homes valued at $500,000.

Levies were on the ballot in Kalispell, West Valley, Columbia Falls, and Whitefish.

Kalispell Public Schools

Voters shot down a $700,000 high school general fund levy, 7,516 to 9,056. General fund levies cover costs related to the daily operation of schools and the education of students.

Taxpayers living in Kalispell and 13 surrounding partner districts whose students attend Flathead and Glacier high schools could vote on the high school ballot issue.

The general fund levy request was intended to shore up inflationary increases and fund current staffing levels in the high schools. However, even if it passed it wouldn’t have completely covered a “best-case scenario” $1.9 million budget shortfall the high school district faces. A high school levy of any type hasn’t passed since 2007.

If the levy had passed, the annual tax increase would have been $12.04 for a home with an assessed value of $300,000, or $24.08 for a home with an assessed value of $600,000.

Kalispell voters narrowly approved the renewal of a 10-year $1,087,000 elementary technology levy, 3,616 to 3,599, according to preliminary results. 

The technology levy will go toward funding technology costs related to safety, parent communication and “learning tools for digital literacy,” according to the school district. 

With approval, the current tax rate of an existing technology levy 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.

Kalispell voters also elected three school board trustees representing the elementary district. Trustees selected are Sue Corrigan with 4,029 votes; Heidi Hickethier with 3,453 votes and Rebecca Linden with 2,814 votes. 

Other candidates, Brian Putnam and Reynolds Cameron, received 2,792 and 1,922 votes respectively.

With 16,769 cast out of 36,500 issued (49%) Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Matt Jensen noted it was the district’s “highest voter turnout in recent elections” in an email to families. 

“We are grateful to the community for their support of the technology fund levy renewal. This levy will provide critical funding for many of our technology expenses for the next 10 years.

It is disheartening to see the continued rejection of the high school general fund request. Increasing enrollment and inflationary pressures have strained an already less than competitive budget.  

We firmly believe that our students deserve the backing of a supportive community and dollars spent on education are dollars well spent.  When our schools thrive, the entire community benefits, and our students receive the best possible educational experience. We remain committed to ensuring our community understands what is at stake in these elections.  On behalf of KPS, I extend sincere thanks to those who voted in support of our schools,” Jensen stated in the email.

West Valley

A general fund levy and a technology levy were on the ballot for West Valley School. Voter turnout was 53%, with 1,929 ballots returned.

With the difference of one vote, the $83,000 technology levy may be too close to call based on preliminary results. The technology levy received 959 votes “for” and 958 votes “against,” according to unofficial results.

There are at least 13 provisional ballots to verify, according to the district. Election results are set to be canvassed at a school board meeting Monday.

If the technology levy passes following canvassing, owners of homes valued at $300,000 can anticipate an annual tax increase of $15.60 Owners of homes valued at $600,000 can expect an increase of $31.21.

Voters approved a $347,000 general fund levy 977 to 943. Owners of homes valued at $300,000 can anticipate an annual tax increase of $65.24. Owners of homes valued at $600,000 can expect an increase of $130.48.

The general fund levy will go toward retaining teachers and paraprofessional positions to maintain smaller class sizes and provide individualized instruction for struggling students.

Columbia Falls

Three levies were on the ballot for Columbia Falls voters. Two high school levies passed while the elementary levy failed based, according to preliminary results. 

Voters approved a $2.75 million high school building reserve levy, 2,031 to 1,576. Owners of a home with an assessed value of $300,000 can expect an annual tax increase of $83.16, or $166.32 for a home valued at $600,00. The levy will be split over two years and funding used to replace roofing that leaks on the east wing of the high school.

The $157,463 high school levy passed in a 1,872 to 1,743 vote. Owners of a home with an assessed value of $300,000 can expect an annual tax increase of $8.63, or about $17.25 for a home valued at $600,00.

The $430,666 elementary general fund levy was shot down by a 1,643 to 1,861 vote. 

If the elementary levy had passed, the annual tax increase would have been $30.70 for owners of homes with an assessed value of $300,000, or $61.40 for homes valued at $600,00. 

In a letter posted to the school’s website Columbia Falls Superintendent Cory Dziowgo expressed gratitude for the community’s participation, remarking on the voter turnout.

“Preliminary data indicate an impressive turnout, with over 40% of our voters returning their ballots for this election. This surpasses previous numbers and reflects a strong dedication to shaping the future of our educational institutions,” Dziowgo stated in the letter, later continuing —

“While I understand the eagerness to understand the immediate impacts of these results, I kindly request your patience. Our Administrative Cabinet alongside internal stakeholders, will carefully review the data at hand to make informed decisions. Throughout the process, please know that our unwavering commitment to prioritizing the well-being and education of our children remains steadfast.”

Whitefish School District

A $108,337 general fund levy was approved for Whitefish High School 2,465 to 1,624.

There were 4,122 ballots cast. Thirty-three ballots returned were left blank.

The owner of a home with an assessed value of $300,000 can expect annual taxes to increase by $2.94. Owners of homes valued at $600,000 can anticipate a $5.88 increase.

Trustee races

Bigfork

Bigfork School District voters selected one trustee representing the high school and Swan River School.

Dan Elwell 239

Carrie Garber 69 

Ballots mailed —1,157 

Ballots returned — 310

Spoiled ballots — 2

Swan River School

Swan River School District voters chose two trustees.

Linda Stewart 170

Curtis Wisman 145

Josh Turner  143

Marcus Burleson  115

Ballots mailed — 1,153

Ballots cast — 317 ballots cast

Spoiled ballots — 3

Helena Flats

Voters in Helena Flats School District chose two trustees

Stephanie Brown 118

Brian Ek 103

Kevin Fritz 215

Amanda Keeland 99

Chris Parson 140

Write-ins 9

Ballots cast 364