Lolo School superintendent: 'Critical needs aren't going away' after bond fails

2014-03-14T06:00:00Z 2014-10-19T08:11:53Z Lolo School superintendent: 'Critical needs aren't going away' after bond failsBy KIM BRIGGEMAN of the Missoulian missoulian.com

LOLO – A slim majority of voters in Lolo said it again Wednesday: They don’t want to pay $10.5 million for a new K-4 elementary school.

The second vote in five months against the bond issue left those in charge at Lolo Elementary School in somber moods Thursday.

“It’s been a very quiet bunch today,” school Superintendent Michael Magone said. “I know the teachers are very, very disappointed.”

Ballots in the all-mail vote went out Feb. 20 and were tallied Wednesday. The unofficial count was 948-919 against the bond, a margin of 29 votes.

That was down from a 43-vote margin in October, when there were 176 fewer votes cast. The margin of defeat was also narrower this time – 50.8 percent, down from 51.3.

None of which helps solve what Magone called “the same critical needs that aren’t going away” in a two-building school that holds more than 600 students, nearly 50 teachers and another 50 staff members.

“We’ll analyze those needs and try to figure out which are most immediate,” he said. “Usually that points to safety-related issues.”

First and foremost is the lower building, at street level along U.S. Highway 93. The 1905 structure is old and fire-prone.

“We’ll be looking at things like egress windows, because if that thing goes, it’ll go rapidly,” Magone said. A 1950s vintage boiler is “way past its longevity, but I don’t know that we’ll have funds to take care of that right away.”

The school board will decide what long-range steps to take, “whether that means coming back to the community with a potential building reserve levy at some point in time or re-planning a bond issue,” he said.

Magone said he’d talked to three of the five board trustees by Thursday afternoon, but it was too soon to get a sense of what they’re thinking.

“As you would guess, they’re pretty tired,” he said.

***

District officials held a series of community meetings after the bond failed the first time, seeking input and clarifying their issues. The result was a determination to try again and ask for the same $10.5 million to build a school for the five lower grades on a 20-acre parcel on Farm Lane, a mile southeast of the current school. It would include a gym, library and expanded food service.

The location was moved farther east and north than the original site, making it closer to Farm Lane to reduce construction costs and impacts on the neighborhood to the south of the school. While costs would have been cut somewhat, the district didn’t change the amount of the bond request due to inflationary costs associated with a year’s delay in building.

Nonetheless, tax impact on a $100,000 home would have dropped from an estimated $132 a year to $125 a year.

Opponents cited a number of concerns with the plan, including a raise in taxes, duplication of services at the widespread school buildings, safety issues with having schools on either side of the busy Highway 93, and a design-build method they said circumvented a competitive bidding process.

“I think the people of Lolo want one school. They don’t want two,” said Frank Miller of Hayloft Enterprises. “You put the whole school down at the new location and be done with it. And you build a conventional school, not a Taj Mahal. That we can’t afford it at this point.”

Miller publicly campaigned against the school district’s decision to hire a general contractor upfront.

“My feeling about it is the people want competitive bidding. That’s what lost the issue,” he said. “The superintendent gave the bid to Jackson Building without (opening) bids, which is unheard of.”

Magone defended the general contractor/construction manager approach, saying it’s been used “by school districts throughout Montana for a number of years,” including Hellgate Elementary and Frenchtown.

“In fact, this process opens it up probably more to local people being able to bid subcontracts than the more traditional approach to it,” the superintendent said.

But the biggest reason people vote against a bond, he knows, is its effect on their pocketbooks.

“Nobody likes to see their taxes go up,” Magone said. “But I think we have a pretty heavy population of people out here that, no matter what the reason is, don’t want a tax increase. I think that played a big role in it.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(12) Comments

  1. Leadfoot
    Report Abuse
    Leadfoot - March 15, 2014 4:55 pm
    BJackson summarized it very accurately. MM, & other socialists like himself, will soon discover that these dumb statements don't Effect our children, but they do Affect our children. These shameless teacher-supporting at all costs individuals always cry "it hurts the children" whenever the teachers don't get their way. The public has spoken with the last possible action left to it: control of the purse strings. This is at least the second time that this spend as much tax money as possible has been voted down. The response is an immediate statement of threats to do everything possible that will be painful to the children & the public. They'll show us. No one would object to the rational, responsible, & exact justification of every tax dollar spent on a school project. But waste it & you'll be shown, again, that withholding school funding very often has a purpose. My guess is that the next attempt will be open to bids with patent disclosure of costs. Again, it is about the children...not about the teachers. What is good for one is most often not good for the other.
  2. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - March 15, 2014 9:01 am
    MM - you are so ignorant that it's really a waste of time to read your angry name-calling diatribes. You are clueless.
  3. BJackson
    Report Abuse
    BJackson - March 15, 2014 7:08 am
    Fear of taxation has nothing to do with it, holding the school administration accountable for their poor management is what is happening. School districts all over the country have been mismanaged and people are not falling for "its the kids" any longer. School administrators have thought, they have hand to write any check they want to. Not going to happen anymore. There needs to be a complete revamp on how districts are run and managed.


    People are no longer willing to throw good money after bad, every time a levy vote goes down to defeat, the parents and administration are quick to try and guilt those who exercised their right to make a choice they felt was best for them. Each one of these levy votes are a choice that is guaranteed by the Constitution, there is no shame in making a choice that is right for you.


    If anyone failed the kids, it is the administration of these school districts, they spend money like a drunken sailor on shore leave, thinking they can get more any time they want, that is no longer the case, everyone is looking at their money in a whole new way these days. They need to learn to spend diligently, and learn how to show the value of their projects. For the kids, no longer cuts it.
  4. sofaking tired of the GOP
    Report Abuse
    sofaking tired of the GOP - March 14, 2014 2:49 pm
    Yes why raise the property value of your house by thousands of dollars while getting the kids out of a 100+ year old dump which makes you have to go outside to go to the bathroom, and increase greatly the quality of teacher applicants to work in a modern school instead of a dump?
  5. Bobbiebear
    Report Abuse
    Bobbiebear - March 14, 2014 1:04 pm
    How about stop paying for over priced costs and let there be competitive offers/bids. Also stop paying for over priced Girl Scout Cookies (a 400% markup) and just have a big bake sale.
    I can hear the slogans now. "Buy from us where our prices are so LoLo".....
    P.S. Sorry for that low blow.
  6. msonelson
    Report Abuse
    msonelson - March 14, 2014 11:38 am
    Hmmm, "fear of taxation". For many I think it's more a fear of living on the street after I'm taxed out of my house. I don't suppose a person of your intellect would consider this as any concern of yours.
  7. opinionsrus
    Report Abuse
    opinionsrus - March 14, 2014 10:48 am
    The problem is that people don't have the money to pay for more taxes. It is not that the people of Lolo don't care about the kids, it is that they don't like the idea of two schools. Tear down the firetrap as Magone calls it and build a two story building there. It would cost less overall than a new school and eliminate the added costs of duplication of services. Sell the property on Farm Lane to help pay for it. Sadly the school district will have to make changes and perhaps sell assets to help pay for the costs of a new building. Just like the rest of the people who don't survive on the backs of taxpayers. I'm sorry Lolo but you need to change your plan.
  8. Montana1982
    Report Abuse
    Montana1982 - March 14, 2014 10:12 am
    Or....and this is a novel concept.....how about not BSing the people you are trying to take even more taxes from. No duplication of services? Right. So the 50 staff members that work in the old school are going to be split 25/25 with absolutely ZERO new hires? Doubt it. What about electricity, water, sewer, gas, maintenance. You cannot split those charges. And what about the old part of the current school that is supposedly so dangerous. If it is that bad, why is the old school not getting closed down upon completion of a new school? The "basic intelligence" you speak of might just not agree with your train of thought. And to be frank, we tend the have the same feelings about the 49% basic voter intelligence.
  9. Objective observer
    Report Abuse
    Objective observer - March 14, 2014 8:28 am
    It will be interesting to see if the Bitterrooters have learned anything from recent history in the upcoming county and state elections. I'm guessing not.
  10. slope
    Report Abuse
    slope - March 14, 2014 7:29 am
    Round two failure? Really shows how much people put process and the fear of taxation ahead of the need to adequately educate children. The comment that the "superintendent gave the bid to Jackson" indicates a level of misunderstanding over the processes by which the State has to choose for construction contracting. Perhaps the District should have kept everything on a very basic level for an obviously basic 51% voter intelligence.
  11. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - March 14, 2014 6:52 am
    Close the doors? It is dumb comments like that that effect our kids and their education. Self serving people who do not want to pay or invest in our children is a disgrace. Of course, we are talking the Iron Curtain of conservative thought which begins at Highway 93 S and Reserve and goes through the Bitterroot Valley. Do not invest in children. Do not invest in education because everyone involved in government are basically morons. No, you people that are only concerned about your pocketbook and your own welfare, same ones who probably think global warming is a hoax and fairy tale...(.your kids will thank you for that in 30 years) are the real morons and I hope you can look at yourself in the mirror. I am sure you can, come to think of it, because you really could care less about those around you...and that is the real issue here is it not?
  12. MTnative92
    Report Abuse
    MTnative92 - March 13, 2014 8:29 pm
    close the doors
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