By Ross Markman
The Cottonwood Elementary School District in August will open a facility to accommodate students who attend Havre Public Schools but want to attend Cottonwood.
"We're going to extend our services on Highway 2," school board chair Beverly Peterson said today. "We're going to leave our school (open) up here and we're going to open up one down there."
Earlier this month, the district moved two modular classrooms from the original Cottonwood school to the site of the second facility, about six miles from Havre. The land was donated by an individual who prefers not to be named, Peterson said.
Cottonwood's current school is 22 miles north of the city.
The decision to open the new school, which Peterson referred to as an attendance center, comes about five months after the Hill County Commission denied Cottonwood's request to do just that.
"After we got denied, I called the Office of Public Instruction in Helena and asked if we can just put a room or building down there," she said. "They said yes. I said, That's exactly what we wanted to do.'"
OPI communications director Joe Lamson said Cottonwood is permitted to open the attendance center without the County Commission's consent.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today that the district was allowed to open the facility without the OK of the commission.
"The way I understood it, because they're not actually opening another school, it's just an attendance center, they don't need commissioner approval to do it," he said.
In March, Kaercher and Commission Chairman Pat Conway voted against establishing the second Cottonwood school.
"What I've struggled with is why this issue comes to this office. In this situation, the (Cottonwood) district can affect other districts," Kaercher said at the time. "You actually have the potential to remove kids from one district and put them in another."
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller said he wasn't aware of the new Cottonwood school.
"What concerns me is we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot in education," he said today. "Opening a school seven miles away when a school (Devlin School) was closed a year ago, that is not going to make sense."
Between the two Cottonwood schools, the district anticipates about 17 kids seven at the new facility attending Cottonwood, Peterson said.
The modulars were used by the district until the radar base north of Havre closed in 1992. With the base's closing, the district's enrollment, once as high as 45, has shrunk to nine.
Last year, six of Cottonwood's students lived in Havre and three lived within the Cottonwood district. The district, Peterson said, is rapidly losing students near their current school, but knows of 20 other students who'd like to attend a school closer to Havre.
"I know people, when they see they have a chance to send their kids to a school with only 12 kids, will choose us," Peterson said. "Which would you choose?"