$6.9M bond requested to renovate West Yellowstone school


WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. - School elections are just around the corner and several districts in Gallatin County are asking voters to help with building and funding issues.

In West Yellowstone, the district is asking voters to approve a $6.9 million bond. The money would be used to pay for a new wing to be added to the school.

It would increase taxes $160.44 a year on a home valued at $200,000. That breaks down to $13.37 a month.

West Yellowstone School District Superintendent Lael Calton showed NBC Montana around the school Thursday morning. She says classrooms are small, overcrowded, and some weren't even meant to be used for instruction.

Calton explained, "We don't have the classroom capacity to put teachers in these classrooms, much less students."

The superintendent tells us when the school opened in 1992, an average elementary class size was around 14 to 17 students. Now that number is up to 25 in some cases.

"It's packed." Calton said, "There's no room for those extra small group instruction, one-on-one, in the classroom."

For the past two years the school has been shuffling students around trying to find space. In 2012, fifth and sixth graders were moved into the high school wing.

Calton tells us it's not ideal, saying, "Movement and action happening in the hallways, causing loud noises and disruptions for the other classes that are happening."

We asked students if they felt the school was over-crowded.

West Yellowstone School Student Body President MaKalyn Chase told us, "In the hallways there's just too many students, and in the classrooms it's just too crowded."

High school student Sage Parker explained, "Especially high school wing, because they brought up the elementary class, so there's not a lot of room anymore."

The concern of overcrowding is just one of the reasons the school board is asking the community to approve the nearly $7 million bond.

Calton told us, "The way that you enter into the school property and exit it, it's not the safest for students."

Calton says part of the bond would be used to improve school infrastructure like roadways as well as to fix an unreliable boiler system.

"They need to be able to move around comfortably in the classroom, as well as the teachers need to be able to teach." Calton said.

We asked West Yellowstone residents what they thought of the bond measure. More than half of the people we spoke to today told us they felt the bond, as written, was unnecessarily large. None would comment on camera.

This is just one of several major Gallatin County school election issues we're following.

The Belgrade School District is asking for two mill levies -- one for the elementary district for just under $712,000 and one for the high school just over $112,000.

And the Bozeman school district is asking voters to approve using existing funds to purchase land for a new high school.

These are mail-in elections. All ballots must be either received or placed into drop boxes no later than 8 p.m. on May 6 to be counted.