BUTTE — The Anaconda school district is faced with closing another school or cutting programs as enrollment has dropped to its lowest ever.
A committee meets Monday night to weigh the district’s options, and officials say few of them look attractive.
Superintendent Tom Darnell has suggested moving junior high kids to the high school, which would likely lead to closing Lincoln Elementary in a complex student shuffle. But critics have questions about mixing younger and older students. And some have even suggested building a new school might be the answer to the district’s financial and enrollment woes.
“Our district, like many other districts in Montana, has suffered declining enrollment since the closing of the smelter in 1980,” Darnell told The Montana Standard last month. “We’ve suffered a reduction in the population of the county, but also a severe reduction of school-aged kids. We’ve gone from 2,500-plus kids to now just over 1,000.”
His proposal is to move the seventh and eighth grades out of Fred Moodry Middle School to Anaconda High School. The third through fifth grades would join the sixth grade in the middle school building. The kindergarten through second grades would remain at W.K. Dwyer Elementary. And Lincoln Elementary would be eyed for closure.
Closing a building means a reduction in force, which the teachers union opposes. But continuing to cut staff to operate buildings has much the same effect. Carlton Nelson, who’s president of the teachers union, a teacher at Fred Moodry and a member of the realignment committee, has suggested tapping up to $7 million in tax increment financing to build a new school with separate wings for high school and junior high students.
Others have suggested going to a four-day school week.
The school board has tasked the subcommittee with developing a recommendation by later this spring.
Both Darnell and Nelson say that there needs to be a transition period of at least a year, no matter the decision of the board.