Anaconda school district juggles budget issues

enrollment decline could mean cutting three teachers
2012-04-04T00:00:00Z Anaconda school district juggles budget issuesBy George Plaven of The Montana Standard Montana Standard

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.

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. JustaGuy
    Report Abuse
    JustaGuy - April 04, 2012 2:18 pm
    I don't get it. The Board has no hesitation trying to borrow millions of dollars to build a new football stadium where the Copperheads play five home games per year. (Figure this totals about 10 to 12 hours per year). To do this, they planned to use TIFID money from the new power plant to secure and repay the loan. They were mad when the State Board of Investments said 'no' to their plan.

    Why can't they use this same money to hire and retain qualified teachers instead? I would much rather the school excel academically for ALL the students than have a nice new field to play football on a few hours per year.

    Money is money. I want ours spent on EDUCATION.
  2. wowjustwow
    Report Abuse
    wowjustwow - April 04, 2012 12:34 pm
    Maybe if those working in the school system would do their job we wouldn't have this problem! I grew up here went to school here and my son was going to school here until this year when I pulled him and put him in Deer Lodge. I was sick of the bullying and the B S the worth less staff at both Lincoln (esp the principal if you can call him that) and Dwyer was just path etic! Thank god Blaz retired! But Lincoln lets all the bullying go on and will no stop it! Aside from living in this path etic town where they pass insane laws about parking your car for 5 days or your trailer. Heaven forbid I go on vacation for a week I will come home to a parking ticket? What kind of town is this coming too? As soon as the market turns around I'm selling my house and saying to hell with Anaconda once and for all.
  3. Richem
    Report Abuse
    Richem - April 04, 2012 11:16 am
    I graduated from Anaconda High 20 years ago and it still surprises me how much enrollment has declined and the diversity of the students has changed as well. I enjoyed my years at this school and would move back to this community if there were job opportunities available. The reality at this point is that there isn't. Very sad to see the district have to make cuts. Good Luck to the administration with the tough upcoming decisions!

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