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Bozeman voters pass $125 million bond for two high schools

Bozeman, Montana is growing and the community has just welcomed a new high school and an existing high school renovation into the mix.  This will affect property taxes but will give more space for students to learn and grow.  It will also cause there to be more redistricting.  The groundbreaking will likely come in 2018.

Bozeman voters pass $125 million bond for two high schools

By Gail Schontzler Chronicle Staff Writer May 2, 2017

By an overwhelming margin, voters passed on Tuesday a historic $125 million bond issue to build Bozeman’s second high school and modernize Bozeman High School, to educate rising numbers of students in the fastest-growing county in the state.

The vote in the mail-ballot election was 12,912 votes in favor to 6,741 votes against, according to unofficial results from the Gallatin County Elections Department. That works out to 65.7 percent to 34.3 percent.

Vote Count Percentage For 12,912 65.7% Against 6,714 34.3%

“Elated,” Bozeman School Board Chair Andy Willett said of the results when they were handed out, right after 8 p.m. “We killed it. I think the word really got out, with this good turnout.”

“It’s a big turnout,” said Charlotte Mills, county elections clerk. “We’ve never had this many ballots to count in a school election.”

The outcome was a great relief for Bozeman school officials and elected trustees. They had spent months holding public planning meetings, open houses and visiting dozens of civic and parent groups to explain the high school plan.

“I’m excited for the future of our community,” said Bozeman Schools Superintendent Rob Watson. “I feel happy that our voters have placed trust in us to do this work. I’m confident we’re going to do a great job.”

Asked what made the difference in passing the biggest bond issue in Gallatin County history, Watson said it may have been that voters got their questions answered.

“There was a lot of nervousness,” he said. “When people get their questions answered, it helps.”

Critics had argued the $125 million bond issue was too much money, that it included unnecessary improvements and would raise taxes too much — about 9 percent in the city of Bozeman or about $200 a year for a median-valued home.

Supporters had argued that it’s time for Bozeman to build a second high school to cope with rapid growth, that the cost of construction and borrowing money would never be cheaper, and that money should be spent both on a new school and on modernizing Bozeman High, so the community would have two great schools, rather than “have and have-not” schools.

Another large bond issue, for nearly $70 million to rebuild and expand the county Law and Justice Center, failed last November by 2,600 votes, or 47.4 percent yes to 52.5 percent no.

“I’m a little shaken,” said School Board Trustee Wendy Tage, who raised money and met with community groups to advocate for the bond issue. “There’s electricity going through my body — it’s a little weird. I’m really pleased our community just feels this is important to have a second high school and pass the operating levies.

“There’s a ton of work to do,” she said. “I think the building is going to be the easy part.”

Harder, she said, will be deciding on school programs and how to set attendance boundaries and split students.

Trustee Douglas Fischer, who went door to door handing out brochures to voters, said he felt “humbled. This is a big thing for the community. They showed they really support the schools.

”What made the difference, Fischer said, was that “the community did not want this kicked down the road. They wanted to see a solution. Going door to door, I hear a lot of anger, concern and fear about the price of this and local taxes. The community gave very big here, but we have to work with the city to find some sort of property tax relief.

”Watson said the next steps would be to start the detailed design work and construction plans for the new school building so that groundbreaking could begin in the spring of 2018. The goal is to have the new school ready to open by fall 2020, when Bozeman High is expected to grow from 2,100 to 2,400 students and be full. Once the new school is ready, work would start on major renovations, demolition and construction at Bozeman High.

The new high school will be constructed on school-owned land in Bozeman’s fast-growing northwest, just north of Meadowlark School, between West Oak Street and Durston Road, Cottonwood and Flanders Mill Road.Follow the Chronicle on Facebook and join the most active news conversation in Bozeman.

The bond issue was endorsed by the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce, Bozeman Chronicle and Southwest Montana Building Industry Association. Lincolns for Levies, the local political action committee set up by school supporters, raised and spent a record amount, more than $21,000, getting brochures out to voters. Volunteers also went door to door and made phone calls to urge people to vote.

Also in Tuesday’s election, Bozeman voters decided two general fund tax increases for operating the schools, voting 12,091 to 4,666 (72 to 27.8 percent) to pass a $200,000 elementary district levy, and 13,853 to 5,779 (70.5 to 29.4 percent) for a $125,000 levy in the high school district.

Source: Bozeman voters pass $125 million bond for two high schools | Education |