After seeing a drop in enrollment, the Montana City School Board is preparing to approve a policy which will open the district to enrollment at all grade levels.
The new policy will allow for out-of-district enrollment if the student is an immediate family member of a district employee, a younger sibling of an already enrolled out-of-district student or if they were previously an enrolled resident student who became nonresidents “due to a move from the district by their parents/guardians and do not enroll in another school district.”
Out-of-district students will also be able to enroll at Montana City School if the gradelevel they are entering has room. How much room varies by grade level: for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, each level must have less than 55 students enrolled; for third, fourth and fifth grade, each level must have less than 67 students enrolled; for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, each level must have less than 70 students.
Students who have been expelled from another school district will not be admitted to Montana City School, according to the school’s new policy.
The new policy – inspired by the school’s enrollment and upcoming legislation – passed its first reading at the school board’s Feb. 8 meeting.
“The recent policy change the board approved at the last meeting as first reading is to help manage our current state of declining enrollment because we have the classes/staffing that can accommodate more students,” Montana City School Superintendent Tony Kloker told The Monitor.
Opening enrollment will not only fill Montana City School’s classrooms, but it will help balance the budget since the school’s general budget funding is determined by its average number of belonging. In 2020, Montana City School’s average number belonging was 523 students, or 502 enrolled students, according to Kloker. That number has since decreased to 492, or 471 enrolled students, for the 2022-23 school year.
For the 2023-24 school year, Kloker said bringing enrollment up to 500 students would be “ideal.”
“Not having room is a problem, but so is having empty classrooms or an enrollment decline that causes financial shortfalls that doesn’t allow the district to maintain current programs, staffing and student support,” Kloker said.
Having already lost $200,000 in current budget authority since 2020, the district has made several changes to balance the draft budget. These changes, according to Kloker, include a reduction in staffing that will likely include three full- time teaching positions.
“The budget authority associated with additional students could increase in order to cover the costs and avoid further cuts to our school,” Kloker said.
Beyond balancing the budget, altering the district’s nonresident student policies also stems from a bill moving through the Montana Legislature.
“Adjusting this policy to manage growth has been an ongoing practice at MCS, but with the current [House Bill] 203 moving through the legislature it is even more important to have things in place that protects our top priority; which is educating our in-district students,” Kloker said.
House Bill 203, which passed its third reading in the House on Jan. 31 and its first reading in the Senate on Feb. 1, is intended to amend six sections of the Montana Code Annotated to revise education laws for out-of-district attendance.
According to Kloker, the bill gives parents “school choice” while providing local control to “protect in-district students.”
Out-of-district students interested in attending Montana City School must annually apply by April 30 for the following school year, and admission in one year will not guarantee admission the next, according to the new policy, which will go into effect after the school board’s March 8 meeting if approved.
While several factors influenced the district’s policy change, during the Feb. 8 board meeting, Kloker expressed his eagerness to share Montana City School education with more students: “Get them in the door right away, let them know, ‘You’re going to be a mustang.’”
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