KALISPELL - Hiring and retaining teachers isn't a big issue in Kalispell, rather it's the issue is budgets and how that affects how many teachers are hired — and if they can afford to live in the Flathead.
Teachers are attracted to the area because of Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park, but it comes with a price tag.
“But also, the fact that the cost of living in Flathead Valley now is high. And so, it's had that upward trend for the last several years,” explained Kalispell Public Schools Interim Superintendent Rany Cline. “And so, for a beginning teacher, it's difficult to either rent — or if they plan to stay here [a] long time — to buy a home in the future.”
But that didn’t stop Kalispell Public Schools from hiring 27 new teachers this year.
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Both Kalispell Public Schools and West Valley Schools — a K-through-8 district — are fully staffed for what the budget allows them, but it's not enough.
“I think the biggest struggle that we'll have is how to be able to run our school with this limited staff as we have because it's a huge machine every day, you know, to get 800 kids through here and to get them fed and to get them you know, learning, to keep them safe,” West Valley Schools Superintendent Richard Gross. “And when you have that over, you know, a six, seven-hour day, five days a week. It's a tremendous, real human resource that that takes."
West Valley had to raise its class sizes this year due to a lack of funding for more teachers, which could affect the appeal of the school.
“We really like to keep class sizes small at West Valley and that was one of the perks of teaching here and sending your kids here, but we can't keep those low class sizes,” Gross said. “So, for the first time, since I've been here, we've really had to look at keeping those class sizes higher at our max.”
West Valley and KPS turn to other avenues of funding that administrators say allows them to be flexible with specific programs.
“I see that they have a lot of things going on here. That a lot of other school districts would like to have. And we're able to do that because we do have a lot of success in applying for and receiving grants,” Cline noted. “But grants you know are super specific things. And so, it doesn't really alleviate the problems that school districts have with funding, but it does allow them to be creative.”
But of course, kids come first in both districts, and they are ready to make this year successful for all students.
“How cool is it to be in this job where, you know, as parents, they're sending us what they love the most, and they're trusting us with it every day,” Gross concluded.