Missoula International School has called the old Prescott School building in the Rattlesnake home for six years now, and may soon be able to call it home for more than a decade.

If Missoula County Public Schools trustees approve an extension of the lease at their meeting on Tuesday, Missoula International School will remain in the building through 2017.

"It's a great home for us," said Rob Fleming, vice president of the international school's board of trustees.

"It's a school building - it's meant to be a school building, and if we weren't there it would probably be vacant."

Missoula International School has leased the Prescott building in the lower Rattlesnake since the school district closed it in 2004 because of declining enrollments. The private school's current five-year lease ends July 31, 2012.

The board of trustees' finance and operations committee recommended at its June meeting that the lease be extended. The last time the MCPS Board of Trustees voted on whether to extend the Missoula International School's lease was in 2008, and it was approved unanimously, despite some ongoing public opposition.

But Fleming said, "It's been a mutually beneficial relationship between us and the school district."

The Prescott building has given the private Spanish-immersion school room to house its program under one roof; previously, grade levels were split between different locations, he said.

Because of the lease, MCPS received a boost in income from leasing a building that would otherwise be vacant, Fleming said.

In 2005, Missoula International School paid the school district $20,000 a year to lease the building, but that rate has steadily risen over the years, and will continue to do so. It will increase to $55,000 in 2012, and $60,000 by 2014.

Although the lease rate was originally on the low side, Fleming said the school has now worked up to a rate that's equal to the market value of the building, and is comparable to what Walla Walla University pays to lease Mount Jumbo Elementary in East Missoula.

"I don't see how it's not a win-win situation," he said.

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But Jeanne Joscelyn, a longtime opponent of the international school leasing the Prescott building, said Missoula public schools are on the losing end of the deal.

"Their reasoning is that it's used for the intended purposes - it's being used as a school," she said.

"And that's the exact reason it's not good to lease it to a private school, because it's a competing entity."

Although parents with children enrolled in private school still pay property taxes supporting public schools, Joscelyn said for every student enrolled in a private school, MCPS loses approximately $4,000 in money it would receive if the children were enrolled in public schools.

According to a survey released by Missoula County, there were fewer than 1,000 students enrolled in 2009-2010 in eight different private schools in the county.

Joscelyn also wants to keep the Prescott building open so it may one day house MCPS classrooms again. With enrollment in elementary schools expected to rise in Missoula County over the next 10 to 12 years, according to a study done in 2009, Joscelyn said the school district will need the extra space.

However, Pat McHugh, executive director of business and operations at MCPS, said the school district has no expectation of using the Prescott School building presently or in the future.

Joscelyn plans to attend the trustees meeting Tuesday to voice her opposition, although she acknowledged the vote to extend the lease will likely be unanimous.

"I'll be there, whatever good it does," she said.

 

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