By Tim Leeds
Superintendent Kirk Miller announced a plan to restructure the Havre Public Schools, including the closure of Devlin Elementary School, during the February meeting of the Board of Trustees Tuesday night.
Miller said the need has been established by at least five years of adjusting to declining enrollment and funding difficulties.
"We've whittled and we've whittled and there's nothing left to whittle on," Miller said.
Miller said previous problems have been magnified due to continued enrollment deficits, the need to invest in an employee compensation package and increased fixed costs including utilities and items such as textbooks and paper supplies. The estimated deficit amounts to about $300,000 on the elementary level and $360,000 on the high school level, Miller said.
The major changes would be in the K-5 schools. Along with Devlin's closure, the remaining schools would be restructured by grade level. All kindergarten and first-grade students would attend Highland Park Elementary School, all second- and third-grade students would attend Lincoln-McKinley Elementary School, and all fourth- and fifth-grade students would attend Sunnyside Elementary School.
Miller said this would allow creation of sections of about equal size, while complying with standards of maximum class sizes. Current enrollment would create class sections of 20 students per classroom in kindergarten and pre-one classes and first- and second-grade, 26 in third-, 24 in fourth- and 27 in fifth-grade.
Miller said the restructure would result in the reduction of approximately six full-time-equivalent (FTE) teaching positions and approximately three certified staff positions. He said the estimated savings would be about $254,000, depending on what happens with Devlin. He said if they lease the building out for other use, rather than simply boarding it up, the savings could be more.
Miller answered some questions about the restructure, and took a comment from Havre teacher Karla Geda. Geda said the enrollment and funding situation is a major worry in the whole state.
"But, realistically, I kind of like this plan," Geda said. "It seems very workable."
At the middle school, the restructure proposes eliminating three FTE teaching staff, with an estimated savings of about $76,000. Miller said this would result in slightly higher class sizes and would reduce the number of electives available to the students. He said it would retain the middle school philosophy of providing students with effective academic opportunities appropriate to adolescence, and retains a great number of opportunities at a time of declining enrollment.
Miller said that at the high school there would be a reduction of about three FTE teaching staff, elimination of the $7 per day for student meals on activity trips, institution of a $30 pay-to-play for all student extracurricular activities, elimination of law related education and the French world language program, general fund budget reduction of about 23 percent on all general fund budget requests for supplies and equipment, and reduction in the number of sections of course offerings as a result of staff reductions.
The estimated savings at the high school would be about $141,000, still short about $220,000 from the estimated shortfall. Miller said they will have to rely on the support of the taxpayers to increase the mill levy later to make up the shortfall. If that fails to pass, he said, they will have to go back to the drawing board.
"And I'm here to tell you," he said, "we've been there, and we don't want to go back."
Miller said a 13-member team of the administration has been working extensively on this proposal for the last three months, and to some degree for the last eight months. He said they did an extensive analysis of different issues and asked themselves hundreds of questions about different issues and different scenarios.
Although there will probably be many other proposals offered to deal with the problems of budgeting and enrollment, Miller said, he intends to endorse the plan proposed last night. He said it is unlikely that anyone can come up with a better plan that examines all the issues as well as his team did.
"We don't want to take the stance of buttering somebody's bread by taking it off of someone else's," he said.
Miller said he also plans to figure out exactly how many classified staff the district will be able to offer contracts to for the next year and offer them those contracts in mid-March. He said he doesn't want to take the position of giving all classified staff pink slips now, then hiring back who he can later. He said he wants that action done to allow the staff some dignity and the opportunity to start looking for new jobs.
Miller also said that there are too many variables to make guarantees at this point, but he doesn't expect to have to eliminate any tenured teachers in the restructure.
"But don't quote me on that," he said.
Miller said that last night was just for information, with no action to be taken. He said they would probably walk out of the room and by noon the next day some variables will have changed.
He plans to schedule the first reading of the restructuring for action by the board at their March 13 meeting, and a second and final reading for their April 10 meeting. He said they will have several public forums to discuss the restructure and answer questions before action is taken.