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KG residents upset with Havre board

 

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Some residents of Kremlin and Gildford are questioning whether they should continue supporting Havre businesses, according to a letter written by the KG school board and sent to Havre school board chairman Jim Heberly on June 25.

The concern stems from a decision last month by the Havre school board to prohibit other school districts from entering its boundaries to pick up students. The board vote 4-2 in favor of the ban.

"We were of the impression there was a good working relationship between our districts that mutually benefited the students," the letter states. "Now we are uncertain if that is true as are KG community members.

"As trustees, we have been approached by our community members and asked if they should continue to support the community of Havre and their businesses. We are uncertain how to answer this question," the KG letter says.

The letter also says that the KG trustees Dave Stevenson, Mitzi Dees and JoHanna Kapperud have been approached by community members curious why the Havre school board was denying their district and nullifying a 26-year-old agreement in the process. The letter was also sent to Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller, Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell and Havre Mayor Bob Rice.

"This is just people that have called after the decision that came out," Dees said today. "To be truthful, it was upsetting. It was a blow to our community."

KG Superintendent John Ballard agreed.

"It's just that some community members were upset about the situation and asked what the board members' opinion was," he said. "But I don't think anybody's boycotting Havre businesses."

For more than two decades, KG has picked 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.

Most Kremlin and Gildford residents, Dees said, will likely not boycott Havre and its businesses. Some, however, will take the Havre board decision to heart.

"In these smaller communities the school is the community. I think (KG residents) have the consensus that the school is a big part of Havre's community, too," Dees said. "People here were wondering if the whole Havre community stood behind the school (board)."

Even though he received a copy of the letter, Havre's mayor said the issue belongs to the school board.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's where it belongs," Rice said. "I appreciate the concerns. But getting involved, that would be like (Kirk Miller) questioning me or my council."

Rice said several people in recent weeks have contacted him, saying they were considering boycotting Havre businesses.

"I was disgruntled by that," Rice said. "My comments to them were, Why would you do that to people that have nothing to do with the school district?'"

On July 1, Heberly responded to the KG trustees with a letter of his own. In it, he explained the Havre school board's reason for banning other buses within Havre district boundaries. Heberly was unavailable for comment today.

"An outlying district (not KG) entered our district territory for an entire year with their buses picking up students after we denied their request," the letter says. "The fact that they acted against the will of the trustees caused our district to have to re-evaluate all existing agreements because of potential legal problems with consistency of application of this policy."

The letter also states that Cottonwood Elementary School District, the "outlying district" mentioned by Heberly, has agreed to allow KG to enter its territory to pick up students. The pick-up spot is the same the students have used for years, so Havre students can continue to ride the bus to KG schools.

"Our relationship with the KG district has been mutually beneficial to the students in the past, and we believe will continue into the future," the letter says.

Miller, in an interview today, agreed.

"We've been very supportive always of all the schools up and down the Hi-Line," he said. "I don't see that changing at all."

The Havre board's decision reinforced its attempt last year to deny the Cottonwood district the ability to bus students who live in Havre to Cottonwood School, 22 miles north of Havre.

After Havre did that, the Cottonwood school board in May sent a letter to Havre Public Schools, rescinding a 6-year-old agreement allowing Havre to enter Cottonwood to pick up students.

Cottonwood school board chair Beverly Peterson said Cottonwood based its decision on Havre's. Had the Havre school board permitted Cottonwood to pick up students within its boundaries, Cottonwood would have allowed the same, Peterson said.

The conflict between Havre and Cottonwood isn't a new one. In March, the Hill County Commission denied Cottonwood's request to open a facility to accomodate 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.

Miller said then that some people had questioned whether the Havre district was acting fairly by allowing KG to pick up Havre students but prohibiting Cottonwood from doing the same. Allowing Cottonwood to pick up Havre students, Miller said, would be a way for Cottonwood School to boost its enrollment.

"I see it more as a recruitment item than as a convenience to parents," Miller said last month. "Transportation is a privilege. It's not a requirement by law."

 

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