By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre School board on Tuesday once again denied a request by the East End Hutterite Colony to have the district establish an attendance center at the colony.
The colony's children are currently taught at a private school run by the colony. An attendance center would be similar to a school, and operated and funded by Havre Public Schools.
The vote was 6-0. Board member Todd Hanson abstained from voting. He said today he didn't have enough information to cast a vote.
Member Aileen Couch did not vote because she serves only on the high school district.
The board has repeatedly rejected similar requests by the East End Colony, and offered to bus the colony's children to schools in Havre.
Colony representatives said Tuesday their children would be too frightened to learn in public schools in Havre because, in part, they would not be accepted by other children.
Colony school administrator Joe Waldner told the board it would be cheaper for taxpayers to establish the center than it would be to bus the children to Havre.
Waldner presented documents from the Hill County Commission and Hill County Road Department that said it would cost the county $218,000 to repair a seven-mile section of Sheppard Road to make it passable for a school bus.
District administrators estimated the cost of establishing an attendance center at East End Colony to be $78,000.
"It will be less of a burden on the taxpayer for us to have an attendance center," Waldner said. "We're going to save them $150,000."
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today the Road Department calculated the cost repairing the road at the request of the colony.
"They asked us what it would cost to bring that road up to a bus route standard," he said, adding that bus route standards require that a road be able to accommodate buses in most weather conditions and also meet additional safety criteria.
If the colony decided to have its children bused to school in Havre, the county would have to pay to rebuild the road, though the cost would be supplemented by state funds, Kaercher said.
If that happened, it is unlikely that the county would be able to repair Sheppard Road this year, Kaercher said.
"There's probably no way we could do it in this fiscal year. It's actually a very large project that would take some accommodation to get done," he said.
During Tuesday's meeting, HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller questioned whether Sheppard road would need to updated for East End children to be transported to Havre. It is common in rural areas to establish contracts to use private vehicles to transport kids to and from school, he said, meaning that buses would likely not have to be used. Colony residents use the road every day, he said.
Miller recommended that the school board reject the request from the colony, citing funding and compliance issues.
In order to comply with federal No Child Left Behind regulations, the center would have to employ a certified teacher, an aide and an administrator. It would also have to offer library and counseling services, and special education and gifted and talented programs.
District officials estimated the annual cost of the attendance center to be $78,642. The figure would drop slightly in future years and would nearly be offset by increased state funding because of higher enrollment. However, because the budget for fiscal year 2005 has already been set, the district would receive no additional state funding for next school year.
"Consideration of opening the attendance center requested would require cutting $78,642 in the elementary district for FY 05," according to a district report given to board members.
That would "result in a loss of programs and potentially staffing of our current elementary schools," Miller wrote in his recommendation to deny the request for the attendance center.
"I am not convinced the Colony will allow the district to guarantee the quality of educational opportunities for each child at the Attendance Center," his recommendation said.
Former East End teacher Sarita Kuhn told the board that she would like to see the colony have its own school because Hutterite children would "be too scared" to learn in public schools in Havre.
"If you bring them to Havre, you're going to need a lot of counselors because you're going to have a lot of kids crying," she said.
The cultural differences between children at East End Colony and children in Havre would be insurmountable, Kuhn said, adding that Hutterite students would not be accepted by their peers.
"They are not exposed to our outside culture," Kuhn said. "They don't have television, they don't have radio. The kids at East End wouldn't have a clue who Shrek is. I believe these kids can best be taught in their own environment."
The comments drew criticism from Miller and board member Kathie Newell.
"We have 145 teachers who do a great job," Miller said. "I think our teachers have met the needs of a great variety of students."
Negative attitudes lead to failure, he added.
"If we have adults who have already decided that these kids will not be successful in this environment, then that's the way it's going to be," he said.
Said Newell: "I could not sleep tonight if I did not defend the students of our district. They are not rotten kids and I resent the insinuations."