By Tim Leeds
The Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees approved three actions stemming from the proposed restructuring of the schools at its March 13 meeting at Havre Middle School last night.
The board approved the first reading of the actual restructuring proposed by the superintendent's office, including closing Devlin Elementary School and reorganizing the remaining three elementary schools into grade-level schools and cutting faculty and classes at the middle school and high school; approved placing a mill levy of $174,218, approximately 9.53 mills, on the May 8 high school election ballot, and approved the nonrenewal of the contracts of 11 nontenured teachers.
Trustee Teresa Miller said the people of Havre have a right to be angry about the actions the board had to take, but that they should direct that anger where it would do the most good, to the state government.
"We don't have the money it just isn't there," she said. "They've (the Legislature) heard from all the administration and educators and now they need to hear from you."
"Contact your legislators," Trustee Judy Bricker said. "We're supposed to be representatives of the people we're supposed to be you down there, and they look at us like yeah, yeah, we've heard it before.'"
Bricker said the only way there will be an effect on the Legislature is if the people of the area contact them, not elected officials like the school board.
The board and members of the administration answered questions about the restructuring from the large audience in attendance. Pati Zorko asked about the comparative savings and merits of reducing the music program and counseling at the middle school while retaining the athletic programs, and if the savings estimated by the administration included the added costs of renovating the schools to grade-level schools and setting up a busing program to handle that system.
Superintendent Kirk Miller said there will be a reduction of counseling staff at the middle school from 1.5 FTE (full time equivalent) to 1.4 FTE, or about one class period a day. He said the requirement for accreditation standards for a school the size of the middle school is about 1.26 FTE, so the school will still be well above the standard.
Miller said the estimate for additional expenses on the busing and renovating of the elementary schools has been included in the estimated savings from the restructuring, and a window has been included to cover costs above what is expected.
Miller also said the flexibility allowed by the grade-level system will provide many benefits. He said the students will be distributed more evenly throughout classes, preventing as much inequity in class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios by the area a school is in. Miller said the system should also provide much more flexibility with busing as far as day care concerns, since the buses will now cover the entire city for busing instead of neighborhood areas.
Middle school Principal Vance Blattar said that if all athletic programs were eliminated from the middle school it would save the school district about $10,000. He said there are many students involved in and benefiting from the programs, and the benefits of keeping them definitely outweighs any savings from eliminating them.
Blattar said they are not eliminating any of the programs or offerings in music at the school as a result of the restructuring, and have an opportunity to extend the program further down, to fifth- and fourth-graders, as a result of the restructure.
Blattar said the restructure will probably result in a year or so of transition and getting used to the new system, but "the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks."
Bricker said they have been cutting for many years, but have tried to minimize the effect on the students.
When asked what its priorities in the restructure were, the board listed the needs of the students, meeting accreditation standards, and maintaining the quality of education.
"It's tough to please everyone, but we have to keep the kids number one," Bricker said, "even if we do have to shake up the adult world."