LAUREL - Taxpayers will be tasked with deciding Laurel Public Schools future for the next 20 years on Nov. 7 as officials eye a $52.5 million project.
"We're just flat out of space," said Superintendent Linda Filpula, who explained the needs of the district to a room of several dozen in Laurel on Monday.
"We've been dealing with inadequate space since I've been here for 25 years."
The entire district would see benefits from the general obligation bonds that would impact a $100,000 taxable value home $125.32 a year for both the elementary and high school portions.
Currently, the district is dealing with overcrowding in all buildings. It's expected to become a bigger problem within the next five years because the district has already surpassed project enrollment.
The district's issues mirror those of Billings Public Schools several years ago. Laurel's aging buildings need maintenance. The bond would also provide additional classroom space to help add teachers.
The 10th largest district in Montana "needs to do a much better job in career and technical education," Filpula said.
"It would be great for our kids to take classes in high school and work in our communities after they graduate," said Filpula.
No health science courses are currently offered, nor is there space or staffing available.
The project includes a remodel of West Elementary School and conversion of South Elementary School to the Laurel High School Career and Technical Campus.
A major piece to the project is building a new 3-5 grade elementary school on 30 acres at the intersection of Yard Office Road and Eleanor Roosevelt Street. This new school would effectively replace Graff Elementary School.
The site is the most cost effective for the new building, district officials say.
Administration would then move into the vacated Graff building. Administrators would then survey what to do with the current administration building, which is the former middle school.
A tear-down would cost roughly $800,000 due to asbestos, but Filpula says there is interest in purchase of the building.
The bonds would sunset after 20 years. Residents determine the cost of what they would pay by assessed value of a home, not market value.
Assessment values will like shift higher when the 2017 reappraisal cycle from the state is assigned.
Taxpayers could decide to approve one bond and vote down another.
Overall, the project would create room for 513 students over the next 20 years.
"You will not find fluff in this proposal, this really meets the needs of our students," Filpula said.
Filpula was met with a number of questions about the project, but was also asked how the district expects taxpayer support after the decision to not renew Laurel High School Principal Ed Norman's contract, a move that was met with student protest, parent anger, and a pair of failed levies in May.
"The hard part for me as a Laurel citizen is the timing," one man said. "You can't give a reason for some decisions made. As a taxpayer, I can't get a real reason, but then (you) ask me to fork over funds."
Filpula didn't directly address the comment.
The meeting ended with Filpula reflecting on the district's mission statement.
"This is why we're here. I'm a taxpayer too, I get it. Each one of you need to make your own decision," she said. "If you want a better community, you need to build better schools."
When asked in an interview what she would say to voters who still are upset by the decision to let go Norman, Filpula said the decision was made for the better of the district.
"This bond issue is about the 2,100 kids in our school district. That's what this bond issue is about," she said. "It's not about any of the adults. It's not about Ed Norman, it's not about Linda Filpula. It's not about any of the board of trustees. It's about the 2,100 kids in this school district, that's why we're running a bond. That was my decision to make. I made that decision, and I stand by that decision."