Missoula County Public Schools is beginning the next phase of its long-term planning process. They recently hosted one of three board and community planning sessions in 2020 and will use public input to set the future direction for MCPS. MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson appeared on Talk Back Tuesday and he covered a handful of separate topics.

“I am a proponent of neighborhood schools,” Watson said. “I do believe that as we plan new neighborhoods in Missoula, we need to think about school sites. After 25 years of doing this, what I have noticed at grades K-5 is that we need to build schools in areas where there are families. It encourages walking and biking, but it also helps reduce traffic.”

According to Watson, Montana schools have two different budgets. A big chunk of their operating budget goes toward hiring people, but that doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary money. As a result, it can be really challenging to reopen a school.

“The part that is difficult that folks don’t understand is the overhead costs; that cost of having a principal, which is required by state accreditation, school counselors, school librarians, those things are overhead costs,” Watson said. “The school lunch program and a custodial staff have to be replicated. It is something to be concerned about because it is not as simple as just opening the building and making sure it is up to code, but it is also about how it will affect your overall operating budget.”

Watson told KGVO that he recently had a “tough” discussion with a group of principals because they realize that their budget is limited and it is important to look critically at how that money is being spent.

“Obviously we want to spend money that helps kids succeed, but we have to live within a budget,” Watson said. “I take pride in the fact that Missoula has done that. They have lived within a budget and I want to continue that, but I understand. I completely understand that this is very difficult for our local taxpayers to fund these programs.”

The next strategic planning meeting is February 25 from 6pm to 8pm. All meetings will occur in the MCPS Business Building Boardroom at 915 South Avenue West. They will have a committee of approximately 40 teachers, staff, parents and community members and will also take public comment at each session.

If you can’t participate in person, please follow along on their YouTube channel, MCAT will be recording each session.