Missoula County Public Schools is taking a conservative approach to budgeting for next school year as funding remains in limbo in the Legislature.

"It's an ever-shifting conversation, it seems like," said MCPS trustee chair Marcia Holland.

Pat McHugh, executive director of business and operations, gave the school board an update on the next school year's budget and levy considering what's happening in the Legislature. Since the board's agenda came out Friday, McHugh's update already was obsolete.

"It's a very different budget picture than what we were looking at even a week ago," said Superintendent Mark Thane.

Then, projections showed a positive budget balance of $117,000 in elementary, and a negative of $75,000 in high school – "we were close to being balanced with the two districts." Now, that's changed to a negative of $156,000 in the elementary and a negative of $372,000 in high school.

House Bill 191, which was signed by Gov. Steve Bullock on Feb. 23, includes the inflationary increase to per-student funding. But House Bill 2 is still in the works, and it's unclear whether Bullock's proposals to cut some funding components will go through.

"We're taking a conservative approach here, assuming they're not going to be part of the funding formula," McHugh said.

He projects that in order for both districts to meet maximum budgets, elementary will need an $804,862 levy next school year, and high school a $77,322 levy.


Meanwhile, the school district is getting a head start on construction projects for the new year, the second year of the Smart Schools 2020 project following the November 2015 voter-approved $158 million in school renovation and construction.

Trustees unanimously approved three more partial re-roofing projects Tuesday night, adding to two others in the works. Sentinel High, C.S. Porter Middle School and Hawthorne Elementary were approved Tuesday, in addition to Rattlesnake and Jefferson elementaries, which will go out for bid in the next couple of weeks.

Those projects will begin once school lets out this summer.

Sentinel's project went to Metalworks of Montana for $698,095, Porter's to Summit Roofing for $325,520 and Hawthorne's to Summit for $379,188. 

"The market in western Montana, there are some big projects that are going to be coming out roofing-wise and we got ahead of all of them," said Burley McWilliams, operations and maintenance supervisor.

The district held back on some roofing projects last summer after prices started to rise later in the construction season.

"We've avoided a lot of escalation charges by being very aggressive with our timeline," Thane said, thanking McWilliams and owners representative Hulteng for their work. "There's a lot of work out there, and I know it's causing him to lose sleep at night. Being as aggressive as we can be to make sure we avoid that inflationary factor is something we'll employ."

Last calendar year, the district spent nearly $20 million on school construction projects.

The trustees also approved CTA Architects Engineers for the Willard Alternative High School project, which will involve a demolition and rebuild of the school. McWilliams said the budget will be $5 million to $6 million.

In the coming weeks, the district will consider the architect for Sentinel, general contractor/construction manager for Cold Springs, GCCM for Washington, planning for some construction at Hellgate starting over spring break, and the logistics of moving Lowell and Franklin from their swing spaces to the renovated schools this fall.

Trustees gave the go-ahead for the district to issue a request for proposals to replace the Stegner track next to Sentinel.

MCPS also will begin developing an agreement with the city parks department to renovate the Fort Missoula tennis courts, as they're used by Big Sky tennis teams and P.E. classes. The district currently rents the courts for about $6,200 a year. Now, they're reviewing funding options to chip in on the renovation cost, which could mean between $98,000 and $125,000 in exchange for 22 years of free use.

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Reporter for the Missoulian