On May 2, voters in the Kent ISD region will be asked to approve a 0.9 mill tax for local school districts, generating $211 per student to maintain programs, improve services and meet other needs. School News Network is offering information on what the millage means for each of the 20 districts in the Kent ISD. Today we focus on Forest Hills Public Schools. SNN Spoke with Superintendent Dan Behm.
How much revenue would your district gain from the millage in the first year?
About $2.1 million
What would you spend that increased revenue on, and how would this help your students?
The district would look at increasing pay to retain and attract teachers. “We want to be able to not have them go to other careers, even,” said Behm. He mentioned a longtime math teacher who left to start a roofing company with a couple of college buddies, and “was able to make a better living doing that. We want to make sure that teaching our kids is not only an attractive career, but a sustainable career.
“We’ve already had to actively reduce our expenses every year for the last 12 years,” Behm continued. “The biggest revenue net increase per student in the last 10 years was $50 per student. Even when we get a modest increase from the state, we still have to make cuts because we can’t keep up with the cost of living. How we have done that is on the backs of our employees.”
Behm said maintaining and designing quality programs for students also would be able to remain priorities if the millage passes. Those programs include K-12 counselors in school buildings, additional reading support at the elementary level, and its own transition program for severely cognitively impaired students. He stressed that those programs “are not on the chopping block.”
If the millage were to fail, what changes or cuts would you have to make next school year?
Behm said the district has not made a list of areas to cut or reduce, “but we would certainly have to do that.” It could mean dipping into fund reserves even more than in past years, he said, or “it may mean there are fewer classes at the lower 20 size and the mid-20 size.
“The bulk of our resources and our expenses are in people. It is not at all welcomed or supported, but it is hard to avoid those types of actions when we have spent 12 years cutting everything else.”
What objections have you heard, if any, from your community, and what is your response?
“A lot of people wonder, what does the ISD have to do with this? Once I explain that under state law the only way to bring in taxpayer dollars for instruction is to get the ISD to call a millage, and that the ISD keeps none of it, they understand.”