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The Missoula County Public Schools district got its "bare minimum to get by" Tuesday night with the passage of a $195,000 K-8 mill levy.

Even so, said school board president Toni Rehbein, the district is grateful, especially considering the tough economic climate in Missoula, the state and the nation.

So next year, as the district readies a funding request likely to be in the millions, getting the voting public on board will be a critical challenge.

"In order to really move our district forward, we're going to be asking a lot more next year," said Rehbein. "But we're not going to do it in a vacuum."

The district is eyeing a building reserve levy, as well as an aggressive technology and curriculum levy that seeks to change not just the tools of education, but the way children are taught.

Rehbein said such changes don't just come with a price tag. They also come with an obligation to tell the public exactly what their money is buying. That obligation is even more salient as more families are accounting for every dollar of spending.

And so there will be a "saturation" of that information before Missoula voters fill out their ballots next time around.

"I think it's a matter of educating people, and about how thorough we're being in the process," said Rehbein, who was re-elected to the board Tuesday in an uncontested race. "And it's about how respectful we're being of their financial needs."

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Historically, relatively small levy requests have passed handily in the MCPS. But the larger the levy, the more dubious the outcome.

Case in point: In 2008, voters rejected by a large margin, for the second time, a $10 million 10-year building reserve levy. In the same election, two other levies passed, totaling just over $200,000. Levies of similar size passed last year.

MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle was not on the job that year, but doesn't much consider the failure of that levy when thinking about the future.

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With grand plans to implement a "21st century schools" concept at MCPS in the coming years, Apostle said the public will be highly involved and informed about the process and the vision he and other administrators have.

"We need to exemplify to the public that we know where we're going," he said. "And we will involve them."

Whatever its size, the success or failure May 2011 levy will be a guide to how quickly the "21st century schools" plan is implemented.

Parents and the Missoula public in general have a huge stake in what the program is, how it develops and what it will mean to Missoula's children.

"The skills that are required to earn a living are different than they've ever been," he said. "I believe our parents want the schools to reflect that reality. ... We're talking about reinventing ourselves to some degree, from K through 12 and beyond."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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