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School board declines to renew membership in NSBA; Gateway project sees steel

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | November 17, 2021 7:35 AM

The Columbia Falls School District 6 last week joined the Montana School Board Association in dropping its membership to the National School Boards Association.

The board voted not to renew its membership dues of $2,675 to the association, which come due Jan. 1.

The move is in line with the Montana School Board Association, which recently announced it, too, would drop its affiliation with the organization when its membership runs out next summer.

According to a story by the Associated Press, the final straw was a letter written by the interim CEO and NSBA president in September asking President Joe Biden for federal law enforcement assistance to deal with threats of violence and intimidation over Covid-19 requirements at schools.

In other states, some angry residents have caused rows at school board meetings, ranging from mask mandates to curriculum changes.

School District 6 board meetings as of late have also seen people speak out more than ever before. At a recent meeting one man spoke for about 10 minutes against the social and emotional learning curriculum at the junior high, for example.

The board has told folks concerned about the curriculum to reach out to the school administrators first, rather than go to them directly.

“We’re the last line of defense,” board vice chair Dean Chisholm noted.

Teachers have spoke up defending the junior high curriculum, while some parents have viewed the half-hour class, taught once a week, as a waste of time and too liberal.

It is important to note the curriculum is endorsed by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

But having said that, school board meetings have remained largely civil in Columbia Falls.

In other news:

The Ruder Elementary remodel project is on track to be completed by Christmas. Crews from Swank Construction had remodeled the old building, including new roof joists, as well as classroom remodels.

The Glacier Gateway project has seen some of the steel infrastructure it’s been waiting for, but all of it hasn’t arrived. Superintendent Dave Wick noted the project is making progress, with the steel going up and decking going down on the first floor, but it’s still a tight timeline to get the school completed by fall of next year.

The board heard from parent Lisa McKeon. McKeon asked that the swim team be put on the agenda at a future meeting to talk about funding. The program costs about $27,000 a year. Currently the swim team is a club, with Whitefish and Columbia Falls athletes and families splitting the costs. McKeon expressed hope the board would approve some direct funding from the district.

The district has seen a significant rise in enrollment with 88 new “average number belong” in the elementary school and 30 in the high school. Average number belonging a is a formula the state uses to determine aid for a school. The bottomline is the higher the number, the higher the state aid. There is a problem with higher enrollment, however. Some classes have as many as 30 students in them and in order to meet state accreditation standards, they have to have a paraeducator to meet state standards or add another classroom. The fifth grade, for example, will likely need another class next year if enrollment holds steady.

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