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Missoula County Public Schools approve balanced budget; taxpayers to see decrease

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MCPS administration building

The Missoula County Public Schools’ administration building on South Sixth Street West.

In a special meeting Thursday night, trustees for Missoula County Public Schools unanimously approved district budgets for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, with savings for taxpayers.

The elementary budget increased by 2.4%, totaling around $64 million, while the high school budget increased by .37%, totaling some $49 million.

Under the increased budgets approved by trustees, taxpayers in the elementary district will see an annual decrease of $20.37 in homes valued at $200,000, while those living within the high school district will see a decrease of $13.36 in homes valued at $200,000.

Part of the savings is due to a large bond payment that’s coming off the books, said Pat McHugh, director of business and financial services for MCPS.

“In the high school (district) debt service, there’s a reduction of $712,000, so a real sizable reduction in the high school (district), and that’s because we refunded some bonds a while back, and now we’re paying them off and that’s a great thing.”

McHugh said most if not all of the levy amounts in MCPS budget funds decreased this year. The elementary district levy decreased by more than $230,000, while the high school district levy decreased by $950,000.

“It’s a pretty sizable reduction, and the tax values are pretty much the same as they were last year, which is expected,” he said. “And because of that, it’s actually a good year for those levies to decrease.”

McHugh said it’s a good thing when trustees can balance the budgets in both districts, especially without increasing taxes.

“It’s nice to see those levies going down. I’m sure it will be appreciated by the community,” McHugh said.

The decrease for taxpayers might not have been as significant had the district not received funds from both the governor’s office and the CARES Act through the Office of Public Instruction to help pay for COVID-19-related expenses.

“We’ve bought quite a bit of technology, we’ve paid for the stockpiling of supplies and sanitizers and masks and disinfectant and PPE and lots of things that schools around the country and certainly the state are purchasing to be prepared,” McHugh said.

In other business, the trustees approved a motion to delay a vote on a six-month lease of Mount Jumbo School to the Missoula International School until their first board meeting in October.

Trustee Grace Decker called for the delay, expressing concern that it’s too soon to know whether MCPS will need the space for classrooms or to lease for child care.

At the Aug. 11 board meeting, there was concern from trustees about the lease and a request for more flexibility in the agreement.

Under the revised agreement, the lease would be month-to-month and includes the use of four classrooms. The tenancy can be terminated upon 30 days notice. Missoula International School would use the rooms to help space out students returning to school in the middle of a pandemic.

The board will revisit the Mount Jumbo School lease on Oct. 13, when Decker said they'd have a better idea of the district's needs.

During public comment, several individuals expressed concern about MCPS’ decision to return under a hybrid model of learning.

Michelle Ellen, a special education teacher at Big Sky High School, asked, “How many of us in the school buildings have to get sick before you guys call this as the bad decision it is and place us into remote learning?”

Marty Kardos, who has two kids attending Rattlesnake Elementary, said, “This is not hyperbole, people are going to die because of the decision you’ve made, and I find it profoundly irresponsible.”

The trustees next board meeting is set for Sept. 8.

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