By Tim Leeds
The Cottonwood elementary school district and the Havre elementary school district are at odds over a busing issue.
Havre Superintendent Kirk Miller told the Havre School Board on Tuesday that Cottonwood is violating Montana law by picking up elementary students from inside the Havre district without the School Board's permission. The board agreed that a letter should be sent to the Cottonwood School Board.
Miller said he mailed a letter Wednesday asking it to notify him if Cottonwood is not picking up students in Havre.
"It's a political thing," Bev Peterson, Cottonwood School Board chair, said today. "What it is is a political standoff."
Peterson said her district had to hire a bus driver who lives inside Havre. With more and more people moving out of the Cottonwood district, she said, the board hasn't been able to find anyone inside the district to drive the bus.
The driver stops inside the Havre district where six students meet him, Peterson said, and he takes them into the Cottonwood district, picks up three students from within the district and takes them to the school.
Since the Cottonwood district doesn't ask for any funding for the bus to pick up the Havre kids, Peterson said, it should not need the permission of the Havre board to pick them up. But if the Havre district wants to pursue the legality of the issue, she said, "I guess we'll have to address it too."
She added that the parents of the six Havre children riding the Cottonwood bus prefer the small school her district provides.
Miller said Wednesday that when the Cottonwood bus comes into Havre it becomes a recruiting mechanism for Cottonwood, which is not appropriate.
"That's why the law is written the way it is," he said.
The Cottonwood district and other small districts face the same issues Havre does, Peterson said. The school has gone from 45 students to its current enrollment of nine, and no longer has the facilities to teach more than about 15, she said.
"These small schools, we still are important too," she said. "We have the same issues that come to us."
She said the Havre district is taking kids from the Cottonwood elementary district into the Havre schools. Cottonwood elementary students board the bus picking up high school students and take that bus into the Havre elementary district to go to school, she said. The Havre high school district includes the Cottonwood elementary district, and is included in the high school bus routes.
"So they don't have permission from us and we don't have permission from them," Peterson said.
Miller said a different provision of Montana law allows the younger siblings of high school students to ride the bus into the Havre elementary district. The high school bus picking up those students is an entirely different situation than the Cottonwood elementary bus picking up students in Havre, he said.
Kim Faechner of the Cottonwood board said it's unfair of the Havre board to criticize Cottonwood since Havre is busing Cottonwood students to Havre schools.
"In my book that's discrimination," she said. "We pick up six kids in their district but they pick up 20 of ours."
Miller said the Havre district has had busing agreements with other districts for many years. One agreement has allowed KG schools to enter a short distance into the Havre district and pick up students for about 30 years. Havre also has picked up students in the Rocky Boy district since before Rocky Boy had a high school and Rocky Boy picks up some Havre students.
Faechner said that since the Havre district has agreements with other districts, she thinks Havre should make the agreement with Cottonwood.
"They give other school districts permission every year but they don't give us permission and that's wrong," she said. "This is a really sore subject in Cottonwood. They never give us permission."
The Cottonwood elementary district is north of Havre.