By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The enrollment numbers are official: Havre Public Schools is down 77 students this year from last. The drop could have up to a $325,000 impact on HPS's 2005-2006 budget, administrators estimate.
They had the estimate on hand at Tuesday's school board meeting because the student count is averaged between a fall and a spring semester head count. This school year, the two counts matched exactly.
"You can see that we have some work cut out for us," director of operations Ric Floren told the board when he presented the numbers.
Floren found that grades K-6 had 47 fewer students this year than last. The seventh and eighth grades had 24 fewer students, and Havre High School had six fewer students. Total enrollment at Havre Public Schools this year is 1,929.
School districts can levy for school funding up to the point where a combination of state and local revenue produces $4,000 per elementary student and $5,200 per high school student.
HPS is currently operating at the upper limit of what the state allows, Miller said. A fall-off in state funding could not be compensated for by more local taxes.
"We would need to cut programs," he said.
In an article HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller sent to the Montana Quality Education Coalition, which was published in its mailing "Schools in Crisis: A Local Perspective," he wrote that Havre has had to make serious cuts in the past, including the closing of Devlin Elementary School and district reorganization four years ago.
"Havre Public Schools has exhausted its ability to make further large reductions without major structural change affecting programs, staff, and kids," Miller wrote. He advocated legislation that is supportive of the needs of students and schools.
In an interview Wednesday, he said the best possibility for short-term help is contained in Gov. Brian Schweitzer's budget. He called the budget "the hope" for schools, while long-term legislative change is "the hope and the promise."
Schweitzer's budget includes immediate relief for schools in response to a November state Supreme Court ruling that Montana's school funding system is unconstitutional. The relief consists of a 2.09 percent cost-of-living increase for school funding, as well as an additional $250 per elementary school student and $50 for high school student above what the state currently funds - about $2,800 for elementary students and $3,600 for high school students.
The net effect on Havre would be to nearly balance out the effect of the enrollment drop, Miller said.
There is also a proposal before the Legislature to ease the effect of declining enrollment on schools by averaging a year's enrollment count with the previous year's count.
Last year HPS saw an increase of five students. Under that formula, next year's funding cut would be less significant for Havre.
Between the bills before the Legislature, and the governor's budget, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, Miller said.
"What we want to do is wait and provide appropriate feedback so they understand the impact upon our schools," he said.