Montana Public Radio

Voters In Bozeman, Helena And Missoula Approve School Funds

May 3, 2017

Three Montana cities have passed school bonds for construction, including a $125 million bond in Bozeman to build a new high school and remodel the current one.

About 65 percent of voters in the Bozeman High School district approved the bond, the largest ever requested of area voters.

The district hopes to break ground on the new high school next spring and have it ready to open by the fall of 2020. The current high school has about 2,000 students - making it the largest school in the state - and the city's population is growing.

Six months ago, Bozeman voters rejected a $70 million bond to rebuild and expand the county Law and Justice Center.

Voters in Helena Tuesday approved a $63 million bond issue to tear down and rebuild three public schools, one of which has been closed for years because of concerns it could collapse in an earthquake.

More than 70 percent of voters approved replacing three existing schools: Bryant, Jim Darcy and Central.

The bonding also includes money for technology and security upgrades at all K-8 public schools in the Helena school district.

Jennifer McKee is the mother of two students at Central Elementary. Mckee also worked on the campaign to pass the school bond.

"I know people who have moved away from Helena because they didn’t really have a school in their neighborhood. I know people who have moved to Montana City to get away from the problems in the Helena schools, people who drive their children to Clancy to go to school. So, it is such a huge and positive statement.”

The 20 year bond is estimated to raise property taxes by about $10 a month for a home worth $200,000.

East Helena also passed a $12 million bond to fund a new elementary school building. That bond will also fund new classrooms for an east Helena middle school.

Missoula voters approved an $800,000 elementary school levy Tuesday.

Thirty-eight percent of voters turned out to approve the tax increase, by about 1,800 votes.

Missoula County Public School officials say the levy’s proceeds will help cover the elementary district’s day to day costs.

“Staff salaries, utility costs, supply costs, equipment costs; the kinds of things that simply can’t be paid for by some of the other generous gifts that Missoula taxpayers have passed in the last three years," says MCPS spokeswoman Hatton Littman.

Littman say the levy was needed because of lower-than-expected state funding for public schools.

“So, that had the effect across the state of putting local taxpayers in the position of funding school districts to be at their max budgets because they weren’t receiving those funds from the state level.” 

Littman says school officials are grateful Missoulians consistently support local school bond and levy issues.
 
“We’re an education town. We believe in the strength of our schools,” Littman says.

Missoula County homeowners will see their property taxes go up by about $10 a year on each $100,000 worth of value.