The red pen is out and Libby School District officials are making drastic cuts in the wake of a failed $350,000 levy that voters turned down last month. Fourteen positions have been eliminated and some classes may lose accreditation, according to Superintendent K.W. Maki.
Facing a $700,000 shortfall heading into the 2013–2014 school year, officials had already cut $350,000 from staff and programs. In May, voters rejected an operational levy.
“We don’t have much of a choice,” Maki said. “We’re trying to make the best of the situation and try and limit the impact on kids.”
At a school board meeting in May, Maki recommended a new round of cuts to balance the budget. Seven teachers are among the positions being eliminated. Maki said it is too early to know which classes would drop ranks due to the disproportionate number of students to instructors.
“We’re not going to have enough teachers,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult, but like I said at the school board meeting, we can’t just whine and moan.”
At Libby Elementary School, Principal Ron Goodman has been crunching numbers and said cuts will be made to music, technology, reading and library programs. He also said class sizes will increase, although he doubts any classes at his school will lose accreditation.
The reason behind the shrinking budget – which is about $7 million annually – is enrollment numbers that have steadily dropped over the last two decades. In 1994, 2,180 students attended Libby’s public schools. This year, there are 1,131 students at the school. Maki says the local population is aging and the mine and mill closures have also taken a toll. According to Maki, the year after the Stimson Lumber Co. mill closed, the district lost 172 students. With the recent layoffs at the Troy Mine, Goodman worries about the future.
“I hope that doesn’t mean there will be a landslide of people leaving,” he said. “My greatest fear is another big layoff. How will that affect this school?”
But Maki said there are some bright spots. Because of Senate Bill 175, Maki said the school district got more money from the state than it expected. He also said that enrollment numbers could stabilize for the first time in years and maybe even grow in the future. That would result in more money from the state.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but enrollment is looking brighter,” he said.
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