By Ross Markman
The Havre school board voted 4-2 Tuesday night to forbid other school districts from entering its boundaries to pick up students.
The decision reinforced Havre's attempt last year to deny the Cottonwood Elementary School District the ability to bus students who live in Havre to Cottonwood School, 22 miles north of Havre. It also nullified a 26-year-old agreement with KG Public Schools, an agreement that allowed KG buses to enter Havre to pick up students.
"I think we must not allow any district to enter our territory," Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller said. "State dollars are based upon student enrollment. If there are 10 residents of Havre who attend another school district, that money goes to the ANB cost of that school district."
State funding is based on the the number of students attending each year, or the ANB, the average number belonging.
KG picks up students on the west end of Havre, about four miles west of the city limits. KG Elementary is about 20 miles from Havre, while KG High School is about 28 miles away.
KG Superintendent John Ballard asked the Havre board to consider the political ramifications of preventing his buses from entering the Havre district. A total of 18 students who live in the Havre district have already asked to attend KG during the 2002-03 school year.
"I know there's some contention between this district and an adjoining district. I don't want to see that trickle over to us," Ballard told the board. "I'd hate to see that kind of thing happen between our two districts."
Havre school board member Dave Milam called the decision a lack of cooperation between Havre Public Schools and other nearby districts. He and board member Joe Marino voted against the denial.
"Some of this is personal problems between personalities. It's not strictly business," Milam said.
"If we do this, it just compounds our error," he added. "We only have two districts that are close enough to be neighbors. And we are neighbors."
The school board's job, Milam said, is to administer the funds for students attending Havre schools. Parents and students, he said, have a right to choose where they want to be educated.
Board member Kathie Newell agreed, but said when more students leave Havre schools, more money leaves the district.
"They can take their kids to KG or Cottonwood to school. We are not denying that," she said. "But when we start allowing district after district after district to get kids, you better get ready to see the pennies spread throughout our district in a thinner fashion."
The decision comes three weeks after the Cottonwood district voted to rescind a 6-year-old agreement with Havre schools that allowed Havre to enter Cottonwood to pick up students.
Cottonwood school board chair Beverly Peterson said today that when Cottonwood rescinded the agreement, that board decided it would base its busing decision in 2002-03 on Havre's.
"We're allowing Havre to come in if it's reciprocal," she said. "We're not saying no to them."
KG has asked Cottonwood for permission to enter its district to pick up students. If approved by Cottonwood, the KG bus will be able to pick up at the same place it always has.
The conflict between Havre and Cottonwood isn't a new one. In March, the Hill County Commission denied Cottonwood's request to open a second school to accommodate students who attend Havre Public Schools but want to attend Cottonwood. In the most recent school year, Cottonwood educated nine students, six of whom live in Havre.
Five months earlier, Miller informed Cottonwood that it was violating Montana law by picking up elementary students from inside the Havre district without the Havre school board's permission. In November, Miller offered to negotiate with Cottonwood to find a suitable place outside of Havre to pick up the students.
Also in November, Miller said that some people had questioned whether the Havre district was acting fairly, allowing KG to pick up Havre students but prohibiting Cottonwood from doing the same.
Allowing Cottonwood to pick up Havre students, Miller said then, would be a way for Cottonwood schools to boost its enrollment.
He echoed that sentiment Tuesday night.
"I see it more as a recruitment item than as a convenience to parents," Miller said. "Transportation is a privilege. It's not a requirement by law."