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Editor's note: Each week, the Missoulian publishes news items gleaned from weekly newspapers throughout western Montana.

RONAN - Assured by the school's attorney that the school district clerk could legally administer the oath of office to new trustees, the Ronan School Board got down to business.

One of the first things the trustees did, according to the Lake County Leader, was to table a vote on hiring Gale Decker as high school boys' assistant basketball coach.

Decker, also the Lake County superintendent of schools, had been the one to charge that new Ronan trustees had been illegally sworn in by district clerk Pamela Harris, a notary public.

Only the county superintendent could legally swear in new trustees, Decker had told the board after Harris administered the oath to two new members and a re-elected incumbent at the new board's first meeting.

But, according to Leader reporter Sasha Goldstein's story last week, attorney Elizabeth Kaleva told the board that was not the case.

Kaleva pointed to Montana Code Annotated 1-6-101, which says, "Every court, judge, clerk of any court, justice, notary public, and officer or person authorized to take testimony in any action or proceeding or to decide upon evidence has power to administer oaths or affirmations."

"I swear-in trustees all the time," Kaleva told the board, "but must file the document with the county superintendent before it is legal."

Decker rose and told the board the attorney he had spoken to disagreed.

"If you get five lawyers in a room, you'll probably get five different opinions," Kaleva told him.

"I'm not threatening litigation, but I want to get this right," Decker told the board, which ultimately accepted the legality of the swearing-in performed by Harris.

Decker also voiced concerns during the public comment period about the board's process in deciding to build the school's new football and track-and-field complex.

The trustees voted to hire a new elementary school principal, but when it came time to vote on Decker's hiring for the coaching position, elected to table it instead.


Kindergartners to go full day at Swan River

BIGFORK - Swan River School will offer full-day kindergarten next year, in response to requests from parents.

"We think it's the right decision right now," principal Peter Loyda said.

According to Jasmine Linabary of the Bigfork Eagle, many other area schools already provide all-day kindergarten classes, including Bigfork Elementary.

Teacher Sue Stephens said kids who participate in the longer schedule tend to be better prepared for first grade.

The switch to a full-day school also provides a budget boost, as more full-time students means more state funding - the move could increase next year's budget by about $33,000.

Parents wanting to stick with half-day kindergarten still will have that option.

During the same meeting at which the new kindergarten schedule was approved, the school board also discussed making budget cuts to help meet an expected $50,000 deficit. Possibilities include cutting library, Title I and building aide staff, as well as cutbacks in the guidance office and technology lab. Band, art, textbooks and supplies also are on the list of possible cutbacks.

Much of the deficit is caused by an increase in the school's health insurance costs, Linabary reported.


Eureka furniture maker to lay off 3

EUREKA - A Eureka furniture maker is laying off craftsmen in response to an ongoing national recession.

"We're not going out of business in any shape or form," said Tom Kincheloe, owner of LodgeCraft. "But in some ways, (we're) getting more aggressive."

Three longtime employees will be laid off as part of the business' streamlining efforts.

According to Krista Tincher of the Tobacco Valley News, LodgeCraft has been manufacturing artisan furniture in Eureka for 21 years.

The company makes much of its furniture at a shop in Somers, where seven employees were laid off in 2007. The Eureka shop made only the company's highest-end products.

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Following the layoffs, Kincheloe said, the Eureka location will operate solely as a showroom.

"It's the only way we could handle it," he said. "It's the stark reality of the business environment we're in now."

Kincheloe said four large Flathead Valley furniture stores have gone out of business in the past year, yet he remains optimistic about the industry's potential as the economy continues to recover.

"Overall," he said, "I'm positive about the future."


Girl's bee photo to be displayed at Capitol

LIBBY - A Libby girl's art - a photograph of a bee pollinating a flower, titled "Silent Helper" - has won Montana's Congressional Art Competition and will be displayed for a full year at the nation's Capitol.

"I've entered a couple (photo contests) around here," said Paige Ward, "but never really won much, so I was very surprised."

According to Canda Harbaugh of the Western News, the photograph by the Libby High School senior beat out art from around the state, including photos, paintings, drawings, collages and mixed media. It will be displayed in Cannon Tunnel, the pedestrian walkway that leads to the U.S. Capitol Building, alongside winning art from other congressional districts around the country.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., judged the contest (she was also top pick among public voting) and will join Ward in Washington, D.C., for a June ceremony.

Ward intends to travel there with her mother, followed by a train trip up the East Coast.

"Silent Helper" was a quick snapshot, she said, captured outside the school for her photography class. She plans to attend North Idaho College in the fall, where she will major in photography.

Weeklies Reader is compiled by reporters Michael Jamison and Vince Devlin.


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