By Tim Leeds
Like many schools in the area and in Montana in general, the schools in Big Sandy have been tightening their belts to handle tough times of declining enrollments and shrinking budgets.
"That declining ANB (average number belonging, the student count for funding) we've cut so many classes over the years, can't find much more to cut," Big Sandy High School Principal Jim Barsotti said.
Barsotti said it has been difficult finding ways to continue to provide a quality education with shrinking budgets.
"We can still put out a quality education, it just gets harder to offer a variety of things," he said. " We still offer a strong academic program" including subjects like physics, calculus and advanced placement English.
Barsotti said they took a big cut several years ago, and another two years ago. He said next year probably won't be as bad, although they will still fall about $45,000 to $50,000 short, but another severe cut could be in the near future if the legislature doesn't increase funding.
Barsotti said part of the problem is unfunded mandates handed to the schools by the state government. He said the schools are told they must have so many guidance counselors, so many special education teachers, and so on, but aren't provided more money to pay for those programs.
Barsotti said they have made adjustments to account for the tight budgets, laying off an assistant clerk, consolidating programs, sharing teachers with the elementary school and having teachers teach six periods a day. Barsotti teaches classes himself at the school.
He said the people of Big Sandy have been a big help, with the Booster Club raising money, community members helping with projects, and so on. Barsotti said Big Sandy already instituted a "pay to play" plan where students have to pay to participate in extracurricular activities a few years ago.
"We just need more students," he said.
Keith Edwards said the schools are a crucial part of the town. He said Big Sandy, like many small towns, have a three- or four-legged stool of support, one of which is the schools. He said as long as they have the schools, there's a reason for the town to go on.
The schools still have many successful programs, including the extracurricular activities. The girl's basketball team at the high school last year was "infamous," as Big Sandy resident Dianna Webster put it. Infamous enough to have a section printed about them in Sports Illustrated for Women last spring.
Other programs still available at the school include football, girl's volleyball, a tennis team, speech and drama, and a strong band program.