By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A third busing dispute in four years has ignited between the Havre school board and another district, this time, Blue Sky.
When the dispute is resolved, either Blue Sky will drop part of the route it can't afford on its own, or Hill County and the state will continue to split the cost for the extended bus route - $24,000.
In September, the Hill County Transportation Committee voted to allow a Blue Sky bus to extends its route and enter the Cottonwood elementary district - and, thus, the overlapping Havre High School district - to pick up at least two Havre area residents. KG and Cottonwood schools gave permission for the Blue Sky bus to cross their districts lines and the County Transportation Committee approved the route.
Two weeks ago, the Havre school board said in a unanimous vote that one of the Havre area students being picked up isn't eligible for subsidized busing. The other students is from another town and is not under HPS jurisdiction.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller said he thought the board's vote would block Blue Sky from being reimbursed for the trip into the Havre High district.
But Office of Public Instruction school finance administrator Joan Anderson said Monday the County Transportation Committee's decision stands. Blue Sky will be reimbursed for the entire bus route as long as it is picking up at least one student it can claim as eligible for reimbursement anywhere on the route, Anderson said.
She said HPS can appeal the decision with the County Transportation Committee and if it does not like the outcome, it can then appeal to OPI.
HPS director of operations Ric Floren, who brought the issue to the school board, said he could not comment on whether the board would appeal.
After the vote, Havre school board chair Denise Thompson cited desire to save taxpayer money as the reason for the board's opposition. Board members said the extra $24,000 for the extended route was too much to spend to bus one or two students.
Blue Sky Superintendent Terry Grant and Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell both said Havre is being unfair because Havre buses pick up students in other districts but Havre tries to block other districts from busing students out of the Havre area.
"It's OK for Havre to get the money, but it's not OK for it to come to us," Grant said.
He said one of the students on the bus is attending Blue Sky after the parent had a disagreement with HPS officials about the child's education and that another is a child originally from another town who was not accepted by HPS.
"I wouldn't be running that bus unless it was for a kid needing an education. I make some of those bus runs myself and I don't get paid extra for it," Grant said.
Isbell, who chairs the County Transportation Committee, said: "Havre goes into other districts but they don't allow other districts to go into Havre."
In 2002 the Havre school board unilaterally denied all districts permission to enter Havre districts, ending a 20-year agreement with KG schools. Miller objected to routes into the Havre district, saying they are recruitment tools for other schools. When a student leaves Havre schools for another district, state funding follows that student, and Miller has said that he wants to protect HPS's funding.
In 2001, HPS filed a complaint against Cottonwood school district with the Hill County attorney, saying Cottonwood was picking up elementary students in Havre's district without permission. In 2002, Cottonwood filed its own complaint against Havre. Miller said the Cottonwood bus driver, who lives in Havre, is still picking up students in Havre before the bus goes the Cottonwood district for its official route.
On the other hand, Miller said, the district sends buses into the Rocky Boy district at the request of Rocky Boy Public Schools, and is busing seven students out of Cottonwood at the request of their parents.
Grant disagrees with the argument that a bus route is only worth reimbursement if there are a certain number of students riding it.
"Who is going to be the judge of whether a kid is worth it," he said.