By T.J. Pyette
The Havre school board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to deny a request from the East End Colony that the school district open a new elementary school at the colony.
The East End Colony currently runs a private elementary school.
Joe Waldner, representing the East End Colony, presented the proposal to the trustees.
"You've denied our request to open an attendance center six or seven times, so we are now asking that you open a separate school of the district for us," he said.
Waldner quoted a section of the Montana Accreditation Standards entitled Learner Access, which addresses equal opportunity and reads: " ... the board of trustees shall develop and implement processes for assessing the educational needs of its students. ... Cultural and language differences should be viewed as valuable and enriching resources and should take into account the unique needs of American Indian students and other minority groups."
Waldner said he thinks that under this section, the board is responsible for providing a school at the colony.
Waldner added that the board could then apply to OPI to use different methods or procedures to meet accreditation standards at the colony school, such as not using a certified librarian or counselor, which would save funds.
Waldner's said that the district would generate at least $64,000 in state funding for the school, and that the colony could run the school for around $50,000 with adjustments to the accreditation standards.
Havre Superintendent Kirk Miller said he sees several problems with the colony's proposal.
First, state law requires that those who want to open a school need to submit a petition that identifies the students who will attend and the reasons for the request. He said the colony's proposal did not include the petition.
Rather than delay board action on the proposal for another month, Miller asked Waldner if he represented the parents of the children who would attend the school, and if he intended on presenting the necessary petition.
Waldner answered "yes."
Miller then said he had contacted Jeff Welden, chief legal counsel for the Office of Public Instruction in Helena, to find out if the trustees could take action on the proposal without the petition in hand. Miller provided the trustees with Welden's answer in writing.
"To my knowledge, there are no court decisions or Attorney General opinions addressing this question," wrote Welden.
Miller told the trustees it would be up to them to decide whether to take action on the proposal, knowing that Waldner intended to present the petition.
Miller then outlined his conclusions regarding the proposal. He said that the colony incorrectly suggested it would be responsible both fiscally and educationally for the students at a new school. State law gives that responsibility to the school board, he said.
He also said the colony can't, as it proposed, have a school without a certified librarian and a counselor.
"You can have no deviation" from the accreditation standards, he added.
The operational budget provided by the colony is also inadequate, and the costs of opening a school would far exceed the amount set forth in the proposal, Miller said.
Miller then addressed the language of the Learner Access section of the accreditation standards that Waldner had presented.
"As a member of the Board of Public Education, I was at the table when this rule was crafted," said Miller. "The intent of this rule is to provide an integrated school atmosphere, to value diversity and accept the unique cultural heritage of students in public schools."
Miller said the intent of the East End Colony is, and has always been, to segregate students, not integrate them.
"Recommending individualization based upon special cultural needs in a system built to promote social diversity and civic responsibility is wrong," he said.
In voting to deny the proposal, school board chair Jim Heberly said to Waldner: "You're asking to use public money for a private school."
School board members Denise Thompson and Dave Milam also voted against the proposal.
Members Kathie Newell and Joe Marino voted against the motion to deny due to what they said was a problem with the process.
"No petition, no answer," said Marino. "I can read the law, and I will not deviate from the law."
Newell said she is against opening new schools now but agreed that the board needed to have the petition in order to take action.
The East End colony responded to the denial with a proposal to be released from the district to establish a possible agreement with another school district.
Waldner said, "We have already talked with some other districts. That's all I will say."
The board voted unanimously to deny that request based on Miller's recommendation.
"Wait until the colony has a tentative agreement with another school district for you to look at," said Miller. "Then decide if you want to approve it."
The Hilldale Colony presented an identical proposal to the board to open a school at the colony. The request was denied 3-2.
Miller presented an update of the progress on the District Educational Work Plan, which he referred to as "our district's strategic plan that allows us to continue to excel even when enrollment and funding are decreasing."
The board also unanimously approved issuing a request for proposals for a soft drink contract at Havre High, since the current contract with Coca Cola Co. will expire on Jan. 31.
The discussion to allow soft drinks in the school environment will happen sometime in the future, said Miller.