Havre Daily News
Hilldale and East End colony schools will remain two of four private Hutterite schools in the state.
The colonies had proposed an interlocal agreement between Rocky Boy Public Schools and Havre Public Schools that would have removed both schools from the Havre district, allowing Rocky Boy schools to conduct a 10-month study to determine the feasibility of providing the colonies with attendance centers.
The proposal was shot down by the HPS board on Monday night with a 3-3 vote. A majority was needed for it to pass. One member who was absent from the meeting said she would have voted in support of the proposal.
HPS board member Teresa Miller said she has voted both for and against public funding for colony schools.
Miller said she probably would have voted for the agreement.
“I would like to see it resolved. The issue comes back about every six months. It has for years,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
Thirteen Hutterite colonies in Montana have attendance centers, which are schools with limited resources that are connected to an existing public school system, state Office of Public Instruction spokesman Joe Lamson said Tuesday.
If the centers were feasible, the agreement would allow Rocky Boy schools to establish the schools. Rocky Boy schools would be responsible for establishing budgets, securing instructional equipment, employing teachers and meeting state regulations.
In the proposal, Rocky Boy schools would have collected all state funds associated with the attendance centers and used that money for the operation of the schools.
The agreement would not have cost the Havre district any money and would have left all funding and implementation of the centers to Rocky Boy schools.
Any students would have the option to attend Havre schools or the new schools and the agreement would allow any eligible students residing in the Havre district to enroll at the colony schools.
HPS board vice chair Kathie Newell said she could not justify putting her stamp of approval on the agreement when other schools in the area have closed their doors because of funding issues. The funds are intended for a public education, she added.
“That's what they want, is private education with public dollars,” Newell said at the HPS board meeting. “I have been opposed to this and nothing has changed.”
Newell, board chair Denise Thompson and board member Judy Bricker voted against the agreement.
Board members Joe Marino, Todd Hanson and Norman Proctor voted for it.
Rocky Boy superintendent Sandra Murie and board members Thelma Stanley and Debbie St. Pierre attended the HPS board meeting and presented their proposal.
East End Colony school administrator Joe Waldner said if the schools' cost ran more expensive than expected, the colony could issue a grant to provide the extra money. East End and Hilldale are among the largest property taxpayers in Hill County, he added.
The colonies each have their own private schools. One board member suggested educating those kids in Havre.
“I think the best situation would be to bus the kids to Havre,” Marino said.
Murie asked the board where the money to bus the kids to Havre would come from.
Bricker said Havre schools are already funding buses to the area and would receive mileage and per-students funding if the colonies' students attended the city's schools.
“I'm sure it would cost more to bus the kids to Havre,” Waldner said to the HPS board. “Havre's got nothing to lose.”
He said the two schools have 38 students.
Bricker said HPS has never denied education to the colonies and she sees no reason to allow another school system to educate the colonies' students.
Waldner said busing the students would cut into the time spent learning German, which is taught during the hours the students would ride the bus from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
St. Pierre said she identifies with the bilingual culture of the Hutterites and it would easier to stay where they are and have a half day taught in German.
Waldner said the colonies have been working on acquiring public school education since he was a fifth-grader 30 years ago.
Murie said she visited with other colony schools and got a “heads up” on the pros and cons of the agreement.
Waldner said he and other colony members also have discussed the matter with colonies all over Montana and gotten their advice.
The other two Montana colonies with private schools are Flatwillow Colony in Musselshell County and Forty Mile Colony in Big Horn County.
Lamson said 17 public schools in the state almost exclusively educate colony students and 11 public schools have colony students. Montana has 10 independent public districts, which cover a single colony school including the Gildford Elementary District that consists of the Gildford Colony School, he added.
After the vote was made, Murie said she was disappointed and frustrated. She said the colony instructors are doing the best they can but they don't have to meet state and federal standards and mandates.
Waldner said he would welcome education mandates and technology in the schools.
“Where do we go from here? I don't know,” Murie said.
Waldner said he has come to the HPS board seven times in the past four years.
“I'm used to it,” he said of the decision. “I'll continue to do what I feel is right for our students and try to get a public education.”