By Ross Markman
Joe Waldner pleaded with the Havre Board of Trustees Tuesday night to open a sixth school in its district, a facility that would be staffed and funded by Havre Public Schools.
He was denied.
The school board voted 6-0 against taking over the private East End Hutterite school, 20 miles north of Havre. It also voted unanimously against taking over the private school at the Hilldale Hutterite colony.
The focus for the Hutterites was their property tax dollars something Waldner, the East End school's administrator, said they've been unable to take advantage of.
According to the state Department of Revenue, the East End Colony paid about $27,847 in property taxes for schools last year.
"Havre Public Schools doesn't help us a bit, yet all of our tax money we do not receive," he said. "With this, the kids would get a better education and our property tax dollars would benefit us."
District Superintendent Kirk Miller recommended that the schools, referred by district administrators as attendance centers, not be taken over by the district.
"I don't believe the budget for 2002-03 will be able to absorb the cost of opening an attendance center," Miller said. "There is no money available."
The total expense for both schools the initial year, Miller said, would be about $170,000 $90,000 for Hilldale and $80,000 for East End. The money would go toward hiring a total of two teachers, a teaching assistant, a counselor and a librarian. The cost of materials, supplies and substitute teachers was also factored in, Miller said.
The district receives state dollars each year the average number belonging, or ANB based on the previous year's enrollment.
If the schools were approved, the district would get the ANB money for 37 additional students 17 from East End, 20 from Hilldale. But the cost of running the new schools, Miller said, would exceed the amount of ANB.
This wasn't the first time the school board was asked to open the attendance centers. According to chairman Jim Heberly, the colonies have asked the board several times during the last decade to take over its schools.
"Money is definitely an issue and so are the rules and regulations. We owe it to all our students to give them the best education possible," board member Judy Bricker said.
"It is not a time for additional expenditures," she added. "And I do not believe that the leaders of the colony will agree to an expanded curriculum."
Waldner disagreed, saying the Hutterites would consent to the Havre curriculum, but only if he could continue to teach the children German.
"We would comply with all federal and state rules if the attendance center is approved," he said. "I just need the children from 7 a.m. to 8:30. They have to learn the English plus the German."
Board member Joe Marino proposed the German language be taught at other times of the day not during school hours.
"We don't want to destroy the culture of the colony, but I don't know if the board can say we should open an attendance center to help preserve a culture," he said.
Marino suggested the colony allow its students to be bused to Havre schools.
"You guys have a great opportunity to embrace both cultures and take advantage of your tax dollars," he added. "Sometimes I have trouble understanding why some minorities want to remain separate."
Mixing Hutterite children with Havre students is not the answer, Waldner said. He told the board a story of when he recently took some Hutterite children to a Highland Park playground. While they were playing, Waldner said, several cars drove by and people yelled obscenities at the kids.
Bringing Hutterites to Havre schools could result in similar harassment, he said.
"It's not feasible for our kids to be bused there," he said. "Besides, a bus couldn't even make it up our (unpaved) road."
Board member Kathie Newell held up a 3-inch-thick file. Inside were all of the Hutterite requests for an attendance center since 1996.
"If the road isn't passable, then how do you expect our teachers and staff members to get there?" she said.
Regardless, Newell said, Havre Public Schools can't afford to fund another school.
"How can we in good conscience consider opening another school? If we do, the pieces of pie get smaller," she said.
"It is my heartfelt belief that if you want a better education for your kids, you'll send them to Havre Public Schools and give them a 12-year education," she added.
East End and Hilldale students attend school until eighth grade, according to Waldner.
Two board members, Teresa Miller and Dave Milam, had voted for the attendance centers in previous years. Both wrestled with the issue again. Both voted against the requests Tuesday.
"I've lost a lot of sleep over this one, but I don't think this is the right time to do this," Miller said. "A lot of people would like to see you come into the Havre school system. They think your children could have something to teach our children and vice versa."
"It's all about money. We're called trustees. We're trustees of the school district funds," he said. "We have to work under a set of rules and do the best we can. This request has to be denied."