Some trustees want to consider other options

After three hours of deliberation, Missoula County Public Schools trustees came to a majority consensus to cut teacher positions in the coming school year.

To balance the 2000-01 elementary school budget, MCPS administrators recommended at their work session Wednesday that the equivalent of 20 full-time elementary positions be eliminated.

After crunching the numbers, administrators told trustees that they needed to find a way to cut $949,120 from the elementary schools. The $740,164 that must be cut from the high schools' budget will be easier to find, administrators say, by dipping into the general fund reserve and if voters approve a mill levy in May.

Among the positions slated for the chopping block are full-time classroom teachers, a quarter-time music teacher and a half-time physical education teacher and library aide.

When trustee comments began to lean towards soliloquies, trustee Jan Guffin changed the tempo of the meeting at her turn at the microphone.

"We have a finite budget, and there's nothing we can do about it," Guffin said. Cutting teaching positions, she said, "is the most efficient way to do this. It sounds callous but most of our funding is in people. … It has nothing do with how we value teachers or education; it has to do with where the money is."

Some trustees urged the board to consider reducing administrative costs before cutting teaching positions.

Trustee Debra Sears said she did not want music education put at risk.

"I want very much to secure this lovely opportunity we have in our music program," Sears said. "I would like to see a balance where it's not only the teaching staff that gets reduced. Can we possibly get a budget that shows some reduction in administration staff?"

Trustee Suzette Dussault asked MCPS administrators to revisit the idea of combining their offices on Sixth Street and South Avenue. Her suggestion was supported by trustees Greg Tollefson, James Sadler and Barb Seekins.

All trustees voiced their frustration with having the uncomfortable task of cutting positions and putting education at risk.

"We are at a point of less for less, and that's what next year's budget will deliver," said Mary Vagner, MCPS superintendent.

A final decision on the budget cuts will not be handed down until after public hearings are concluded.

Missoula County Public Schools budget discussions continue next week with a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The venue has been changed to the Sentinel High School cafeteria to accommodate a larger audience.

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at

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