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Missoula school officials plan levy for May ballot

Missoula County Public Schools

Missoula school officials are planning to ask residents for more money in May.

Voters approved the Smart Schools 2020 bond in 2015 for $158 million dollars, the largest voter-approved bond issue in Montana history.

The school board is expected to sign off Tuesday on asking voters for $475,000 in levies that will go on the May 5 ballot. Just last year Missoula voted in $800,000 in levies for elementary schools.

Administrators say the biggest thing voters need to know is that the 2020 bond money is for infrastructure, while the levy they’ll be requesting is for staffing and general budget.

Superintendent Mark Thane explained at City Club Missoula Monday that 90 percent of the school’s budget goes to staffing about 1,800 employees. Now the district is experiencing increasing enrollment and wants to add more teachers, give a few raises and get supplies.

"We have some areas where we need to augment our budgets, like teaching and learning materials -- we've completely zeroed out that line item, and it's important that we put appropriate materials in the hands of all our teachers and students," said Thane.

The preliminary numbers on the levies are for $305,008 for elementary schools and $171,462 for high schools. The elementary levy would drive up taxes $9.54 for a homeowner with a $200,000 house, while the high school levy would decrease $4.11 a year. If taxpayers decline it, the high school levy will decrease $9.28 because of another levy that’s expiring.

"The numbers are actually determined based on the state funding formula, so we have mathematical calculations that we go through that tell us what we can ask for from the community, and it's all based on state dollars that flow to us, our student enrollment and then working backwards, we determine how much the local taxpayer can be asked to support those budgets," said Thane.

The school board will look at the numbers tomorrow. If they sign off on them, voters will see them on the ballots in May.

As for the 2020 bond, school officials have spent $58 million of the $158 million so far. What remains is $49,132,241 for the elementary schools and $50,932,697 for the high schools.

The majority of the money has been spent on construction, with the largest chunk at Lowell Elementary for a $11,085,245 project.

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