Teacher decries planned staff cut at Sunnyside


April 10, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson speaks to a large crowd of student athletes and parents Tuesday at Havre Middle School.

Sunnyside Intermediate School fifth-grade teacher Ashley Gauer told the Havre Public School Board of Trustees that a plan to cut a teacher from that grade at the school will hurt the students and put more stress on the teachers.

"Teaching is a hard job, but it is a rewarding one," Gauer said. "That's why we do it."

Gauer spoke during the open agenda portion of the board's monthly regular meeting at Havre Middle School.

Board Chair Aileen Couch told Gauer that because the issue was not on the agenda for discussion, they could not respond during Tuesday's meeting, but it will be put on the agenda for discussion at a future meeting.

Bauer said that her classroom is a general classroom which has no special grouping or makeup and has 24 students for most of the year.

She said if the number of fifth-grade teachers is reduced to five, it will mean class sizes of 26 to 28 students per class, which makes teaching extremely difficult.

She said the state specifies teachers can have 30 students in their class.

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should," Gauer said.

Gauer said that, at Sunnyside, the school day starts at 8:20 a.m. and ends at 3:20 p.m. Classes for the students coming into fourth grade from third grade is 35 minutes longer than what they are used to. She said that this can make the transition hard for them and it takes time for the students to adjust to the change.

Not only that, but what the students have to learn for their students changes dramatically, she added. At that level, students transition from learning how to read to how to use those reading skills to learn material. Classes have added social studies and science curriculum and those students have to learn and practice their non-fiction reading skills.

"These are difficult skills and take a lot of work and practice to increase," Gauer said.

The difficulty in math for fourth-grade students also increases, she said. Students are asked to multiply and divide numbers; understand, add and subtract fractions, and many other complicated subjects to tackle.

"All of this takes a lot of hard work, both from students and from teachers," she said.

In addition to educational challenges, she said, students are also coming in with a variety of emotional challenges. Technology has reshaped the world and has had a direct effect on the students' behavior. She said that the students are coming in with fewer social skills and more need for personal attention. A number of these students also have personal trauma and individual needs.

Of the 24 children in her class, she said, a total of 11 students in her class need extra individualized help, she said, adding that these numbers are common in other classrooms.

Gauer said that Sunnyside has six teachers in the fifth grade. That number of teachers has helped them address issues with students and provides time to give the students the individual attention they need.

"To hear that we are going have to go down to five teachers is very disheartening, because that means that we are going to have to add to our already very busy load of kids," she said.

Gauer said that research shows smaller classes are more successful and builds a better rapport between teachers, parents and students.

"If we want to attract and keep teachers, we need to give them smaller class sizes," she said.

District moves to gasoline buses

Earlier during the meeting, the board approved the first step in converting its fleet of buses from diesel to gasoline.

The board of trustees approved the motion to purchase a new gas 72 passenger bus for students with handicaps.

Havre Public Schools Transportation Department employee Andy Bradshaw told the board of trustees he wants to switch the diesel buses they use currently for the schools to gas.

"We are not experimenting here, other people have already done it for us," he said.

Havre Public Schools Transportation Department Director Jim Donovan said that the bus was a planned purchase. Last year, the school reduced a route, leaving the transportation department with five spare buses. This year they will reduce another route and have another spare bus.

He said that the new bus will replace their current bus for students with special needs bus and will be ready to go.

Bradshaw said the special education bus has an in-floor system, which can rearrange the floorplan of the bus when they see fit. The bus also has a lift in back for wheelchairs and three wheelchair spots in the back of the bus. The first four seats of the bus are not movable but the rest can be moved when need.

He said switching to gasoline is a benefit because the fuel for gas buses are cheaper. He added that now, the torque, horsepower and fuel mileage in bus gasoline engines are comparable to diesel engines. They run smoother and quieter have less-complicated fuel delivery systems, and cost less than diesel-engine buses.

"Even the engines' longevity is lasting longer than they use to," he said.

A big reason Bradshaw said he wants the change is because in 2008 companies switched to electronically controlled diesel particulate filters worth thousands of dollars. He added that the system is problematic during the winter months, which is the majority of the time they run the buses.

Gas engines have fewer components, he said. He added that the gas buses also use less oil, eight quarts instead of the 16 required in the buses used now.

The gas engines are better for the colder weather, he said.

"This bus, I want it to be the most-reliable," he said. "I want it to start and not have to worry about that after-treatment system messing up on us."

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson said that he trusts the transportation department's decision and understands the school has a need for a new special education bus.

"We need to buy a bus, we need to buy a special education bus," he said. "(Bradshaw) has done a lot of research."

Bradshaw said that a number of other school districts such as Belgrade, Twin Bridges, Kalispell and Missoula have already started using gas buses and have no complaints.

He added that the department has a 20- to 30-year plan for switching all the buses over to gas.

Recognizing excellence

The board also recognized several groups of Havre Public Schools' students during the meeting, including the Havre High School boys swim team state champions, the high school girls basketball state champions and students named to all-state for winter sports.

Carlson said that in the past they did these award ceremonies for a number of years but stopped for a couple of years. He added that they brought it back because the school wants to recognize the excellence of their students.

"We actually did this for a number of years and kind of got away from the idea," he said. "... As you walk into Havre High you see above the door the tradition of excellence, that's really what started this. We wanted to see what excellence looks like. Well, excellence looks like this."

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Parents take photos of a group of All-State high school athletes after the students were presented certificates in recognition of their accomplishments Tuesday at Havre Middle School in Havre. The Havre High School swimming and girls basketball teams were also honored.


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