Mount Jumbo School

Mount Jumbo School

Parents of students attending Rattlesnake Elementary School were one of the most vocal groups in providing feedback as the district sought to redraw attendance boundaries for its elementary schools this year.

In an online boundary study survey in February, Rattlesnake parents made up 85 out of 100 commenters from all of the district’s nine elementary schools. Yet, none of the changes the district finalized last week will directly impact students living in East Missoula.

However, several options for changes to boundaries in the East Missoula area, including the option to reopen the vacant Mount Jumbo Elementary School, aren’t off the table.

The district said it will consider opening Mt. Jumbo in the future if there are at least 200 elementary-age students residing in East Missoula, and they find a partner to co-occupy the building to help defray operating costs.

“A school serves as the hub for a community and having a neighborhood school encourages more permanent residency out here, rather than transient tenants who come and go,” said Lee Bridges, the chair of the East Missoula Community Council.

“Long term residency means more input from folks who care about the community we live in and want a voice in how we grow and improve.”

Bridges was recently elected as chair of the council and said that reopening Mount Jumbo is one of her top goals.

Although Rattlesnake is one of the district’s four elementary schools that are at or near capacity, overall district projections indicated that by 2028, MCPS would not need to open a 10th elementary school to accommodate projected growth.

A 10-year population and enrollment forecast the district commissioned through McKibben Demographic Research projected that Rattlesnake Elementary School will experience peak enrollment in the next two school years and then slowly decline by about 50 students by 2028.

However, the boundary study advisory committee also recognized that it is hard to predict growth trends occurring in East Missoula, and that growth may necessitate opening Mt. Jumbo Elementary in the next 10 years.

Some East Missoula community members like Lisa Thomas, who’s also a teacher at Rattlesnake, feel the district should also factor in convenience for families in the area.

“Why would you want to bus your kind 25 minutes away when you’ve got a school within walking or bicycling distance?” Thomas said.

One of the primary reasons the district delayed in making any changes to boundaries in the East Missoula area, and instead kept those options as considerations for the future, is that the boundary study advisory committee recommended considering changes to the area alongside changes to middle school boundaries.

The district will begin reviewing middle school and high school boundaries in the 2019-20 school year.

Superintendent Mark Thane said that when the district made the decision last week to adopt boundary change areas 10, 28 and 29 it was based on the immediate concerns to address overcrowding at Jeannette Rankin Elementary School.

There are currently 600 students living in the Jeannette Rankin boundaries, exceeding the district’s 450-500 enrollment cap. The area is also projected to grow by another 100 students in the next 10 years.

The changes, effective July 1, 2019, expand the attendance areas for Russell and Chief Charlo Elementary Schools, with the option for current Jeannette Rankin families to grandfather their children in.

For now, the possibility of reopening Mount Jumbo Elementary School, remains on the table.

Bridges said she’s happy with the resolution to consider reopening the school in the future.

“Now we have a target to aim for,” she said.

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