Bond battle

Proposed Lolo school construction sparks conflict, again

Posted by Jimmy Tobias on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 2:23 PM

Mike Magone, the superintendent of the Lolo School District, stands in a cramped bathroom in the lower building of the K-8 school that sits on a hill at the edge of U.S. Highway 93. With one toilet and two urinals, he says it is the only available bathroom for more than 30 sixth grade boys. In a nearby classroom, he points to a plastic bucket on the floor. “We don’t even have a sink in our science classroom,” he laments.

Outside, traffic on the highway roars within 150 feet of that lower building — a remodeled one-room school house with two additional wings that hasn’t seen new construction since the 1960s.

“We have our school on Highway 93, kids going out into the highway, running across,” Magone says. “When we have crossing guards here it is one thing, but during after-school hours we don’t.”

Superintendent Mike Magone in front of the lower building at Lolo school.

The extra doors and entryways on campus are a security concern. The windows don’t open properly and are a fire hazard. The ancient boiler is energy inefficient and expensive. The school is so overcrowded students only get seven to 10 minutes for lunch. The list goes on and on.

Magone is sick of the safety and capacity problems at the current Lolo school. Along with the school board and some parents, he is leading the charge to build a new K-4 school on a 20-acre plot in east Lolo. He wants half of the students to move to the new building while the rest, grades five through eight, remain on the old campus.

To accomplish the goal, the school district is trying to pass a revised $10.5 million school bond. A mail-in ballot arrived at Lolo homes on Feb. 20. This is the district’s second attempt to get a bond passed after its first campaign failed by a 43-vote margin in October.

“People say, ‘Well, can’t you just do some things to fix this building?’ But the approximate cost to take care of the ADA accessibility and the boiler and all those things is a million and a half dollars,” says Magone. “Okay, that is less than building a new school but the bigger picture is that ... you are just trying to fix an old building. You haven’t increased your capacity for students. You haven’t solved the problem.”

The bond has caused friction in Lolo. Drive down Highway 93 and on one side of the road you will see white signs in support of the proposal. Across the way, red placards on wooden legs tell residents to “VOTE NO.” Leading the opposition is Frank Miller, a local businessman who owns KT’s Hayloft Saloon and Deli and at least 10 other properties near the school. He helped defeat the bond campaign in October.

The Miller family’s local holdings are worth more than $4 million, according to 2012 appraisals. Frank says his tax burden will be “tremendous” if the school bond passes. Though taxes concern him, he says he opposes the bond primarily because he disagrees with the school district’s plan.

“We only want one school, we want a conventional school,” says Miller, whose daughter once attended the Lolo school. “We can’t afford two schools. There will be duplication of services.”

Miller explains his position while standing in the headquarters of his business operation, where he and his staff produce signs and fliers to drum up opposition to the project. He is using every conceivable argument to defeat the bond.

A recent flier he mailed to residents contains a list of reasons why people should vote no: Competitive bidding was not used to select contractors, it claims. Services will be duplicated at the new school and the project design is too complex, it declares in loud blue letters. Miller is also telling his tenants that their rents will go up if the bond issue passes. He says he would only support a school bond if it financed a single K-8 school that accommodated all 602 of the district’s students—even if that bond was more expensive for taxpayers.

“We are not fighting education,” Miller says. “I am willing to pay a higher tax base for a conventional school.”

Superintendent Magone disputes Miller’s claims and disapproves of his methods. He says that the Lolo School District would be interested in building an entire K-8 facility at the new location if it could. Lolo’s bonding capacity, however, is less than $11 million and the school district cannot raise enough money for a larger project. He says the move to the new site has to happen in increments and with community support or it won’t happen at all.

“Part of his information is absolutely false. He says it was not competitively bid, it was, the whole process has been competitive,” says Magone, adding that the school district repeatedly invited Miller to participate in the planning process and he consistently declined the offer. “I am not sure why he is putting false information out on the table but he is. If it is because he is opposed to a tax increase, then okay, great, that is a solid reason to be opposed to it. But to be putting incorrect and misleading information out there and saying this is the reason you shouldn’t pass it, to me that is unethical.”

Magone is optimistic the bond will pass. Miller says it will fail. Lolo voters have until March 12 to make their decision and mail back their ballots.

Comments (11)

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The taxpayer funded school webpage is full of one sided propaganda. The superintendent takes time out of his taxpayer funded day to give one sided propaganda. At least this business owner uses his own money to mount a campaign. It is said "it can't be done" to build one big school but how about a simple proposal to see what the amazing builders and architects of Montana could come up with. The only thing anybody has ever pushed forward is 2 schools, 2 locations.

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Posted by Hersbird on 03/06/2014 at 4:39 PM

Message to "I live here": I live here, too. I don't have children or grandchildren who have ever attended or ever will attend Lolo school or ANY school. But other taxpayers--including childless and retired ones-- paid for MY public education, and now I'm stepping up to pay for the public education of other people's kids. That's just how it works in a country where public education for ALL is the bedrock of democracy.

Much gratitude to Jimmy Tobias for his effort in visiting the school to see for himself the poor, insecure, and inadequate conditions that exist there and for even-handedly reporting the words and views of BOTH Magone and Miller. I don't know if Miller is rich enough to be in the 1% or not, but given his wealth relative to most Lolo citizens (the 99%), his vehement opposition is telling, very very telling.

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Posted by Pronghorn on 02/28/2014 at 9:27 AM

The vote "YES" billboard, vote "YES" signs and all postcards and ads asking the community to vote 'YES" for our Lolo children were paid for by "VOTE YES FOR LOLO KIDS" a Ballot Issue Committee that is registered with the State of Montana.

This committee is completely funded by contributions from individuals and organizations who know the facts regarding the need for a new Lolo Elementary School, and choose to support the committee. All contributions are recorded and reported to the State of Montana.

EVERY sign, postcard, ad and billboard that the "VOTE YES FOR LOLO KIDS" committe has put out to the community has CLEARLY stated that it is paid for by the committee.

The Lolo school district has NOT contributed any money to the committee. Again, the Lolo school district has NOT contributed one penny to the committee.

You should also know that initially Mr. Miller did NOT acknowledge paying for his ads and signs, until the Montana Political Practices contacted him and informed him by not doing so he was breaking the law.

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Posted by VOTE YES FOR LOLO KIDS, Co-Chair on 02/27/2014 at 6:05 PM

I’m sort of at a loss on this article. Why does Lolo need to place such a huge bond on the citizens of the city? This will have to be paid by taxes and Lolo is clearly not that big.

Where I’m confused is why hasn’t the school applied for state and federal funding or grants? I’ve done some research and there is a ton of money out there for new construction, remodeling and even completely new schools.

Here are some links.…

Maybe there is something I haven’t read yet.

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Posted by Shadow on 02/27/2014 at 5:45 PM


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Posted by I LIVE HERE on 02/27/2014 at 12:15 PM

I am the mother of a kindergartner at Lolo Elementary. We moved to Lolo last summer so we are very new to the community. And might I add that this is a wonderful community! In the fall we attended Lolo school's open house event. Part of that event was a tour of the problem areas at the school. Those involved showed us around and explained to us each of the major concerns. I have to honestly say if I had not taken that tour, I probably would have voted no due to the rise in taxes alone. However, after seeing first hand and being able to ask questions and get honest answers about all of the issues, I gladly voted and continue to vote yes! Even if it means raising taxes! I strongly recommend that those who are considering voting no, that you actually go down to the school and take a look at the issues and ask questions. You will see WHY this needs to happen. The safety of our future generations NEED this!

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Posted by Melissa Wilson-Ellis on 02/27/2014 at 10:08 AM

Build the new building, break up the school into separate elementary and middle schools. It's really not a revolutionary concept. This is not a "duplication" of services because you won't be teaching the same kids the same things at both locations. If the number of students has increased over the last 50 years, then the number of classrooms & teachers will need to increase eventually, too. Won't it?

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Posted by Julie Vogel on 02/26/2014 at 8:02 PM

Safety of children should not have a price tag. Children have been struck by vehicles, the traffic in the mornings and afternoons is horrendous. They tried to remedy that with they new circular driveway an it doesn't' seem to help. Frank Miller wants to control every thing that happens in this town, and he is contradicting himself when he says no to building a new school because it will raise taxes. He is threatening his tenants with higher rents, then in the same sentence says he's ok with building another school for K-8 even if its more expensive. That raises taxes too. It doesn't make sense. I don't disagree, with the building of a new school for the simple fact that the safety of children should be the main concern. My first thought was why not knock down the existing "original" structure and rebuild. But the safety concerns with traffic and kids crossing the street is an issue. I also don't have a problem with building a whole new school K-8, but agree that the funds simply aren't there. Stop trying to control things FRANK, and help come up with a solution. A person who owns half the town should be putting some of that money to good use in the community, instead of into himself and his own business. Be a pillar of the community and give back. Otherwise, let the people of Lolo cast a vote without your threats of raising their rents. Stop being a bully and let people make their own decisions.

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Posted by LSpain on 02/26/2014 at 6:26 PM

The sale of the existing school property will not generate enough funding to make up the difference to pay for a K-8 school. This has been evaluated and falls far short.

There WILL be open bidding, the misinformation about the GCCM process is incorrect. The GCCM process will actually allow more local contractors to get involved than the method of using one large bid. GCCM is used by many Districts across the state and has been very successful in delivering projects that meets all of the Districts needs, including low cost.

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Posted by OCR on 02/26/2014 at 12:24 PM

Why cant the school sell the old school location's property to make up the difference on the cost to build a K-8 school?

Lolo needs more business to help boost our economy. Sell the old school to bring more businsss in and provide funds to provide a full K-8 facility.

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Posted by Katie Pfaff on 02/26/2014 at 9:00 AM

Why IS there no opening bidding!?!

How CAN there be 2 schools without "additional or duplicated" positions?

Are there even blue prints?

What about the K-4 kids now coming from the hill down to school... How and where do they cross? And your not duplicating positions who will cross them across the streets!?!

A large majority of my clients are Lolo kids I would hate to see their safety at risk.

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Posted by misstess on 02/26/2014 at 8:34 AM
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