Havre Daily News
Havre Public Schools wants to block funding for a bus route the new North Star school district wants to use to pick up students who live in the Havre district. But it's doubtful the actual reimbursement for the route will be affected.
At last Tuesday's Havre school board meeting, the board accepted Superintendent Kirk Miller's recommendation to deny North Star Public Schools reimbursement, arguing that a student's choice to attend another school should not be subsidized by state and county funds.
The route, which will run from Kremlin to the Sandy Creek bridge west of Havre on U.S. Highway 2, will cost North Star $11,353 to run for the school year.
Despite the vote, that money will be paid back to North Star from state and county funds, Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell said.
"The route will be paid for, as approved by the County Transportation Committee," she said.
Reimbursement funds are allocated by the Hill County Transportation Committee. At its June 27 meeting, the committee voted to approve the entire route and North Star's reimbursement.
Havre School board member Judy Bricker, who represents the Havre elementary district on the county committee, said the Havre school board voted knowing that it would likely make no difference in the actual money paid. It was important, though, to take some sort of stand, she said.
"This vote is to let people know that, no, we are not open for everyone that wants to pick up our kids," she said.
The issue behind the vote is more important than transportation funding, she said.
"It's not the transportation money," she said. "It's the ANB. The ANB is what the real funds are."
Average Number Belonging funds are state money paid to a district for each child who attends its schools. More children will leave, and more funds will be lost, if Havre lets other districts' buses enter its district, she said.
Bricker said she agrees that parentsshould be able to choose which school their children attend, but doesn't think that particular choice should be paid for by taxpayers.
"When someone is going to come into our district and pick up our students, that's fine, that's their choice. But should the taxpayer have to pay for it?" she said.
Last year, Havre voted to deny KG reimbursement for picking up one of its students. That vote also came weeks after the County Transportation Committee had approved the route and its funding.
KG received the reimbursement last year, Isbell said.
According to a memo provided to the Havre board by North Star Superintendent Terry Grant, 21 students in grades 2 through 12 who live in the Havre High School district have asked to attend North Star schools. The North Star elementary school is in Gildford and the high school is in Rudyard. It is unknown exactly how many of those students will be bused to North Star, which was created when KG and Blue Sky consolidated this year.
Another issue about busing may become a point of contention.
North Star has an agreement with the Cottonwood elementary district to enter that district to pick up students. However, the bus stop at Sandy Creek is also in the Havre high school district, and North Star does not have an agreement with the Havre district.
State law says a district must have an agreement with another district in order to pick up that district's students, said Maxine Mougeot, state director for transportation in the Montana Office of Public Instruction. North Star's agreement with Cottonwood only allows it to pick up elementary school children.
The same law states that any district that knowingly extends a bus route into a district it does not have a written agreement with can lose reimbursement funds for all of its routes, Mougeot said.
If the North Star bus picks up a high schooler, and Havre takes issue with it, the Havre school board can file a complaint with the County Transportation Committee, which would hold a fact-finding session. If the committee finds the situation being challenged is better for the students involved and the community in general, an exception to the law can be made, Mougeot said.
Bricker said the school board hasn't discussed whether it will file a complaint.
Grant said he hopes the situation doesn't go that route.
"I'd like an understanding with Havre," he said. "It's something that used to happen in the past without a problem."
Students have gotten on at the Sandy Creek stop to head west on the Hi-Line for their education for years, he said. Those students are often looking for smaller classes and a smaller school.
"I support education," he said. "Whichever environment fits the student best, that's what they need to have."