MISSOULA – Missoula County Public Schools trustees approved a multi-million dollar plan to convert the old Missoula College building into the district’s new Administrative Center earlier this week.
But the plan to shift $5.9 million worth of reserves into the project is raising alarms with two of the trustees who worry the district won’t have “cash on hand” for future projects.
MCPS officials have worked for a couple of years on a plan to re-purpose the campus off of South Avenue which was vacated when the new Missoula College opened.
Now that asbestos has been removed, district administrators recommended converting the building into a new Administrative Center, for MCPS business operations and select programs, using millions of reserves, including proceeds from recent property sales.
The idea was to accomplish the project without asking voters to approve another bond issue.
“It’s something that we’ve been planning on. It’s not a surprise. And we’re not going to raise any taxes because of the funding sources that the administration has put together,” MCPS Trustee Mike Smith said. “And I appreciate the administration doing that. So I think this is a fantastic idea.”
But not all the trustees thought it was a good idea to be dipping into the reserves quite so deeply. They wanted the board to take a little more time to look at different alternatives.
“And I don’t think it’s really accurate to say that we’re not using, that we’re not running a levy. This is a permissive levy,” MCPS Trustee Dian Lorenzen said.
“And if we spend the money we have to fix up the administration building and then go back to the public and say ‘now we need money for the high schools’ — and the fact that it’s a permissive levy,” she continued.
“They don’t have to vote on it. It doesn’t change the fact that, in my opinion, we’ve mischaracterized the situation,” Lorenzen concluded.
“You know, we may not be able to cover any of the annual maintenance that each of these schools might need,” added MCPS Trustee Vicki McDonald.
But a majority of the board believe using the reserves, including proceeds from recent property sales is the fiscally responsible course.
“This is what these cushions have, this is what they’re for, is to try to do these kinds of things,” MCPS Trustee Grace Decker stated. “And I don’t know what the amount to have setting in the bank would be that would make us feel comfortable with reserves in the bank.
“Clearly, sitting as a district on millions when we have a project that has been identified as needed seems wrong,” she continued.
The $5.9 million will come from using $1.7 million from the High School District, and just over $4 million from the Elementary District reserves.
Work on the facility — which is adjacent to Sentinel High School is expected to get underway in September.