Members of the East Helena School Board say a decrease in the school’s $7.8 million budget would force a reduction in teaching staff and would adversely affect the quality of the students’ education.

Mark Lambrecht with the Montana Quality Education Coalition attended the meeting Tuesday night at Radley Elementary to hear how a decrease in state funding through the upcoming legislative session would affect East Helena schools.

“We’d lose a lot of great teachers,” Board Chair Ann Marie Thompson said. “They can’t afford to work in a place where it’s going backwards.”

Trustee Scott Walter said the board only has 12 percent of the school budget that’s not designated to salaries and benefits, which is used to buy books, paper, and pencils.

“We don’t have the flexibility,” Walter said of the budget.

Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said improvements in recent years in math and reading test scores are because of the teachers the district is able to hire and retain.

“If we have to go backwards (with funding) the scores will suffer for it,” he said.

Lambrecht, MQEC executive director, is in the process of traveling to some of the 40 Montana school districts that are members of the coalition in preparation for the 2011 legislative session.

MQEC works to secure and maintain adequate school funding on behalf of its members, even if it means taking legal action.

The organization has redirected itself in recent years, Lambrecht says, as a grassroots organization to “put pressure on the legislature to do the right thing.”

“I’m gathering data about how a decrease in funding will affect you, your buildings and the students …,” he said. “These are real impacts and these legislators need to know.”

Lambrecht presented the board with a list of 150 draft bills, pointing out some that pertain to education like a draft that would do away with elementary school districts like East Helena; another that would do away with a school district’s flex fund; and one that would eliminate full-time kindergarten.

“I’m full of bad news,” he said. “We’ll have our backs against the wall.”

Thompson said there’d be resistance to consolidate or eliminate their elementary district with three schools.

The East Helena community needs autonomy, she said, and a continued separateness from the Helena School District even though the schools are “feeder” schools.

“It’s real important we remain School District 9,” the mother of five said.

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or Alana.listoe@helenair.com

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