ANACONDA, Mont. - We first told you at the end of January how the Anaconda School District formed the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee to look at options for the district's future and help figure out how to balance the budget, after shrinking enrollment left the district at just 1,000 students.
The topic's been discussed informally at the most recent PTSA and school board meetings and the district's.
An Anaconda School Board Subcommittee meeting got heated as an angry committee member sounded off on the district's options to handle shrinking enrollment.
At PTSA and school board meetings the district accepted public comment and suggestions.
Some of the options the district is looking at are drawing a controversy, like closing an elementary school or consolidating the junior and high schools into one building.
Monday night, concerned residents parents and students filled every seat in Anaconda High's Little Theater. The Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee started off with a pretty heated discussion between a committee member and the superintendent.
"This system allowed the PTA to go raise an exorbitant amount of money in this town," said committee member, Bill Gupton. "An unprecedented $50,000 and we've put that money into playground equipment that less than a year later we're talking about closing. Where's the vision?"
Gupton expressed his frustration, saying the district didn't spend its money wisely and he isn't happy with the option of combining the junior high and high schools and closing Lincoln Elementary.
Superintendent Tom Darnell fired back. "I don't know how to respond to this attack on me," he said. "This certainly is a surprise to me, Bill. I have not attacked personally a committee member and I expect the same courtesy."
Then the arguments continued with claims of the school not even having a budget.
"Sitting in those finance committee meetings," said Gupton. "One finance committee meeting and a budget committee meeting, I will tell you and I will tell this audience, we don't have a budget."
"That is completely false and not true that only one person does the budget," said Chairman Bryan Lorengo. "Dr. Darnell and Kevin are responsible for that."
The back and forth went on for over an hour and a half, with the audience taking it in, waiting for their chance to speak up.
"I want my opinion voiced as a student," said Anaconda student Emily Morley. "And I feel like their decisions can't be made without student's opinions."
"We are here to become more informed about this topic," said Susie Kruger. "That seems to be a heated topic."
The board ultimately told the chairman they were feeling rushed to make a decision and recommended taking more time to look over budget numbers and more options, perhaps even doing a study before thinking about moving forward.
The board passed a motion to delay the decision, and at the next meeting they'll come up with a rubric to score the recommendations before figuring out the next steps.
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