Prescott school to remain open: Board reverses itself
Prescott school to remain open: Board reverses itself

After hourslong meeting, trustees vote 5-2 to save school

For its 50th birthday, Prescott School got another birthday.

Come May 25, 2002, the school will celebrate its 51st - thanks to Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees.

On Thursday, after hearing nearly three hours of public comment, and an hourlong question-and-answer session with school district administrators, trustees decided to keep Prescott open with a 5-2 vote.

Trustees David Merrill, Colleen Rogers, Suzette Dussault, Debra Sears and Barb Seekins voted to keep the school open; trustees Jenda Cummings and Rosemary Harrison voted against.

"This is a decision of the board and now we'll move forward to implement it," said Mary Vagner, MCPS superintendent. But Vagner said it will be a tremendous task finding money in the already-tight school district budget for $88,900 to keep the Prescott open and functioning, securing $66,000 for a full-time school principal, and the costs associated with hiring people over the summer to do. among many things, recode and restock the library.

"I am the board chair and it is my responsibility to uphold the majority of the board and make sure this transition goes smoothly to keep Prescott School open," said Cummings.

Said Sears: "I'm pleased with the outcome of the vote. Now, we have our work cut out for us."

Trustees also voted to rescind a $298,240 bid from Garden City Builders to build modular classrooms at Mount Jumbo, and rescind board action to construct modulars at the school. Because the contract was voided, the district may have to cough up about 10 percent of the bid, or about $30,000 for the contractor's loss of profit.

Before Thursday's special meeting, Prescott was scheduled to close permanently this June, and the school's fourth- and fifth-graders were to be folded into Mount Jumbo, which currently houses K-3 students.

But not anymore.

The school's reversal of fortune came about by way of new blood voted onto the board earlier this month. In his first action at his first board meeting last week, newly elected trustee David Merrill asked the board to schedule Thursday's meeting.

A crowd of 80-some parents and community members turned out for the meeting at Sentinel High School's gym. Despite the uncomfortable heat, the audience sat tight while about half of the crowd took turns at the microphone. Most of them pitched the board to keep Prescott open.

"I don't think you can separate this issue from overall community issues," said Rattlesnake resident Jack Tuholske. "We have to look to a broader perspective and look at the long-term. It makes the most economical sense to keep the school where it is."

To close Prescott and bus the kids to Mount Jumbo in East Missoula, Tuholske said, would cause a critical impact on the Rattlesnake community, on its neighborhoods and Missoula overall, because families would no longer have a welcoming place.

"This isn't something that can be measured in dollars," he said.

Others agreed, saying the school provides more than just a place to learn.

"I think neighborhood schools are a treasure," said Sally Johnson. "It's not just the bricks and mortar. It's the sense of safety and family and focus for the community.

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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