School bond proposals go before voters

By 
Deb Hill
Reporter
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
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Lewistown School District Maintenance Director Jason Fry, and Garfield Elementary School Secretary Lanna Schoenfelder inspect the water damage on the ceiling of the school office. A school bond issue will go before voters this month, which if passed, will fund upgrades to the district’s infrastructure. Photo by Katherine Sears

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This mill levy impact analysis table found on the school district’s website shows the bond’s proposed effect on taxpayers.

Courtesy of Lewistown Public Schools

With ballots about to go out to voters, Lewistown School Superintendent Thom Peck is looking for ways to help people who still have questions about the school bond election.

“We’ve put it on the radio and in the paper, I have been meeting with organizations around town, we’ve conducted listening sessions over two years, we’ve given bus tours, and recently we received an anonymous donation to allow us to put a video we made explaining the need for the bond on the evening news on KTMF and KFBB television stations,” Peck told the News-Argus on Monday.

However, Peck is certain there are voters who still need information.

“I am suggesting people look on the school district website. We have the video posted there and we have a calculator where you can enter the taxable value of your home and calculate exactly what the difference in tax will be if the bond passes,” Peck said. “We encourage people to be informed and to vote.”
There are two different bond proposals on the ballot, one for the elementary district and one for the high school district. A few voters will only receive the high school bond ballot, but most will receive both.

Both of the bond proposals center around safety, security and infrastructure, Peck said.

“For example, we are looking at installing controlled access to buildings. Most school districts have some kind of entry control that provides security for who can enter,” Peck explained. “We also need to improve fire safety and ADA compliance, including at the pickup and drop off areas, to make it a lot safer.”

Part of the problem, Peck said, is the age of Lewistown’s schools.

“The average age of our buildings is 68 years,” he said. “The oldest building is the junior high, over 100 years old, and the youngest, the high school, is now 35 years old. Even with the great maintenance these buildings have received, we are now at the point of needing to replace entire systems rather than continuing to ‘band-aid’ the problem areas.”

Roofs are a case in point.

“We need to do work on the roof of every single building, either to replace them or repair them,” Peck said. “Even with our youngest building, the high school, ice builds up and breaks the roof seams apart. We have water leak issues in all our buildings.”

Peck said many of the improvements the bonds will address are due to the buildings being built when there were fewer (or no) special education or technology requirements.

“All day long, every day, we heat and cool, heat and cool,” Peck said. “Not only is it inefficient, but it’s hard on the servers, the wiring, the devices and the students. Everything has a domino effect. If we upgrade to more stable environmental equipment, we will save money in the long run.”

Peck thinks the investment will pay off, and not just in dollars.

“Any time we can put kids in a more safe, secure classroom environment, we give them more opportunity to do their best,” he said. “I’ve always viewed education as an investment. No one likes higher taxes but we need to look at how the community benefits in the future. A lot of people love this community so much, they come back here to raise their kids. Currently we are just slightly above the average tax for a Montana community. If the bond passes, it will add just over $1 per day for a home valued at $200,000. I think $1 a day is a great investment.”

Peck said if the bonds do not pass, he and his team will go back to the community to try to understand what concerns voters have.

“We’d listen to the community and try again. We have to wait at least three months and likely we would wait until the next election cycle in May to bring it back to the voters,” Peck said.

To calculate the impact of the bond(s) on your tax bill, go to the website www.lewistown.k12.mt.us. Click on “Your Vote Matters” to get to a new page with bond information.
Scroll down to “Find more information here” and click on “here.” This will take you to a page with election information.
Scroll down to “Estimate Your Tax Impact” and plug in your property’s taxable value in the box.  (Note: taxable value is not the same as the resale value of your home. Taxable value is located on your tax bill or the notice from the Department of Revenue setting your taxable value.”

Examples from the calculator:
For a property with a taxable value of $1,000, the monthly increase in taxes if both bonds pass would be $12.31, or an additional $147.72 annually for 20 years.
For a property with a taxable value of $2,000, the monthly increase in taxes if both bonds pass would be $24.62, or an additional $295.44 annually for 20 years.
For a property with a taxable value of $3,000, the monthly increase in taxes if both bonds pass would be $36.93, or an additional $443.16 annually for 20 years.

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