ANACONDA — With enrollment at Anaconda schools dropping to an all-time low, the district is looking at cutting three teaching jobs next school year.

Superin-tendent Tom Darnell said its

current enrollment of 1,080 students is the first time the district has ever fallen below 1,100 kids, and remains in steady decline since the early 1980s.

Six staff members will retire at the end of this school year — five of them teachers — and Darnell is recommending a plan that would fill only half of those positions.

Specifically, the plan would take away one class at Dwyer Elementary School and consolidate keyboarding at Fred Moodry Middle School among the other teachers.

Anaconda High School’s band instructor would also take over the elementary music program, Darnell said.

The school board will vote on this staff recommendation at its next meeting, 7 p.m. April 11 in the district administrative offices, 1410 W. Park Ave.

If approved, these moves would prevent further layoffs next year; but without a staffing reduction, the

elementary school budget would face a deficit of about $200,000, Darnell said.

“Our teachers’ union was aware of this over the last

bargaining session,” he said. “We’re in good shape, because we’ve planned for this.”

Declining enrollment, meanwhile, has continued to dog the district, which boasted 2,558 students in 1979 — one year before the smelter closed.

The high school now has 340 students enrolled, but with smaller incoming classes and a dropout rate around

5 percent, Darnell believes it is possible to fall to below 300 kids in three to four years.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction uses enrollment to determine a district’s funding, and while district enrollment appears to be stabilizing, Darnell said it is possible further cuts will be needed in the coming years.

One option could be to close another school.

“Operations in those campuses and infrastructure takes the same amount of money, whether you have people in them or not,” Darnell said. “It’s going to be an issue the district will address in the foreseeable future.”

The district has already closed the Beaver Dam School, Washington Elementary School and Dwyer Intermediate School in past years.

The district is unable to control enrollment, but it can control its quality of education to retain as many students as possible, Darnell said.

This year, the high school introduced its new four-track graduation program that tailors coursework for college preparation, advanced college preparation, vocational and basic graduation sequences.

“We have to diversify, and have opportunities in all areas for students to access,” Darnell said.

— Reporter George Plaven may be reached at 496-5597, or via email at george.plaven@lee.net. Follow him at Twitter.com/@George_Plaven.

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