By Tim Leeds
Havre Superintendent Kirk Miller received applause last night at the end of the first community information forum on the proposal to restructure Havre schools.
Miller told the fairly large audience in the Havre Middle School Assembly Room that the district must take care of today's challenges today; must invest in employee compensation packages to maintain a high quality staff, and must continue to provide a quality programming for students in the future.
"If you do quick fixes you're going to pay the price in the long term," Miller said.
Miller responded to questions about busing elementary students if the proposal to change from neighborhood schools to grade-level schools is approved by the school board. He said Transportation Director Ginger Zanto is already looking into what will be needed to transport students from their neighborhood to one of the three schools.
Miller said Havre is fortunate since it already has in-city busing for the students, and none of the elementary schools is more than about three miles apart. He said 17 percent of Havre elementary students are already bused to schools away from their neighborhood, either by choice or by necessity.
Miller said what might happen is to have a central drop-off point where buses that collect children from their neighborhoods would let them off to transfer to buses to take them to their schools. He said it would be under supervision and on school district property.
Director of Operations Ric Floren said one problem for younger children could be alleviated by having the school for the youngest children, kindergarten and first-graders, starting a little later so the transportation and supervision could be simplified. He said a large number of students, probably 40 or 50, use Lincoln-McKinley Elementary School as a bus drop-off and transfer point already.
Miller drew laughter when he responded to a question about having a "test run" for the first few days to see if the students would like riding the bus system by saying "I'm completely sure the first couple of days of school will be a test run."
Miller said if the situation changes the district would be open to reviewing the arrangement again.
"Certainly we're going to look at options and what's best for our kids," he said. "If the advantages of neighborhood schools outweigh the advantages of grade-level schools, we would certainly switch back to that."
Miller said several Montana school districts, including Bozeman, Shelby, Conrad and Cut Bank, have already switched to grade-level schools and several others are looking into it. He said all of the district administration personnel he has talked to in those districts say once the transition is made and the system is in place for a year or two, they are completely happy with the change.
"They're sold on the issue, those environments that have made the transition," he said. "After the transition the reports are extremely positive."
Miller said that he feels as badly as any in the community about cuts at the high school. The French program and law-related classes are proposed to be cut, the school providing $7 a day in lunch money for activity trips would be cut and students would have to pay $30 to participate in extracurricular activities.
Miller said if students have to have the French program, arrangements could be made on an individual basis. He said students can use satellite television programs now to study languages. He said a Havre High student can learn Russian or Japanese, through the high school or Montana State University-Northern right now.
He said even with the cuts the district will probably have to request the voters to approve a mill levy increase for the high school. He said he will probably recommend an increase of about 10 mills to the board, meaning an increase of about $38 in taxes on a $100,000 home.
Miller said he is requesting the entire community come together to support this proposed restructuring. He said he has seen areas with split votes on the issues, and everybody's at each other's throats but the problem's still there.
"I don't think that's a productive way to get to the solution," he said.