ANACONDA – Faced with declining enrollment, Anaconda schools are moving forward with a staffing plan that will cut back three teacher positions next school year.
The final recommendation – approved by the district board at its April 11 meeting – fills only half of six vacancies left open by recent retirements.
Part of plan also introduces a new gifted class at Lincoln Elementary School for accelerated students in fourth and fifth grades. The curriculum will include advanced lessons in all subjects, including math and reading.
Kids are selected into the program based on test scores, grades and teacher recommendations. Principal Tony Laughlin said he is working out an initial eligibility list, drawing from the 80th percentile of scores on the Northwest Evaluation Association testing.
All criteria factor into the final roster of 12 fourth-graders and 12 fifth-graders, Laughlin said. Letters will then go out to parents for their approval.
“I want to be as inclusive as I can, and make it as fair and impartial as we can make it,” Laughlin said.
Laughlin recommended teacher Heidi Ungaretti take the class, while fellow teacher Tom Laughlin will retire at the end of this school year.
Superintendent Tom Darnell said the district will fill both of these positions, and hopes to have hires in place by next month’s board meeting. About 70 people applied by deadline last week.
The district will not, however, replace another teacher at Dwyer Elementary School left by Wanda Spangler’s retirement.
Another temporary position teaching keyboarding at Fred Moodry Middle School is not renewed, and the class will be absorbed by existing staff.
Finally, the district will not replace a full-time elementary music teacher following Gary Sturm’s retirement. Anaconda High School’s band instructor instead takes over the program, with help from Title I teacher Shelly Fortune at Lincoln School.
Darnell is happy with the staffing changes, and the schools continue to meet all standards by the Montana Office of Public Instruction without exception, he said.
“We’ve accommodated for and accounted for this over the years,” he said.
Current enrollment is at 1,080 students by last count, the first time School District 10 has ever dipped below 1,100 and falling steadily since the smelter closed in 1980.
Enrollment figures into school funding by OPI, and Darnell said they simply do not have enough to retain all teacher positions; otherwise, their elementary school budget would face a $200,000 deficit, he said.
Carlton Nelson, president of the Anaconda Teachers Union, said they have worked closely with Darnell and the school board on staffing.
“Unfortunately, the district is in a situation where declining enrollment is plaguing the budget,” Nelson said. “While we would like to see our teachers replaced for the benefit of our students, this is not always possible.”
The union raised concerns that led to the addition of Lincoln School’s gifted class, Nelson added, and they are waiting to see whether funding is available to keep the Title I position full-time.
Laughlin said the gifted class is an exciting addition to their school, and he is looking forward to getting started.
“We will have as much to challenge these kids as we can,” he said. “I think it will go smoothly.”
-- Reporter George Plaven may be reached at 496-5597, or via email at email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/@George_Plaven.