The school district might have had one of the most emotional school board meetings in months as three teachers were on the agenda to discontinue their service to the Hill City School District.
David Kelting, shop teacher in the school district, was the only one listed as reduction in force.
A middle school science teacher’s contract was up for non-renewal and a fifth grade teacher at Hill City Elementary School was listed under resignations.
People are worried about what the decisions mean for the students at the school district. While the context of the the last school board meeting was mostly confusion and unrest about the rest of the decisions, the school board was going to make the meeting on March 13 more about expressing anger about the situation.
Chad Ronish, Hill City High School science teacher, was shocked when he saw the agenda and saw that the decision about the reduction in staff had been made.
He said no one is telling the teachers anything.
It is his third time going through budget shortfalls in the district. The way it used to work, Ronish said, is the school board had to tell the teachers’ committee if there was going to be a reduction in force. Then there was a small window of time that they could get together to work out an alternative. Ronish said they then talked to the schools and found out where they could save money in the budget.
Five years ago they were in a similar situation, and before any decisions were made a budget committee was formed.
“We went through the budget item by item,” Ronish said.
He said they found out where the savings were and reset the budget based upon the actual expenditures.
Ronish said the teachers and staff were told about the budget shortfall last October.
He and others asked if there was help needed in making decisions or if teachers needed to do anything. According to Ronish, teacher contracts don’t require teacher involvement when reductions in force are made.
There are also no committees at the school district that involve parents or community members.
“Instead of talking, discussing and solving problems, we have to fight and that is what we have now. Because you are in for a fight over this,” Ronish said.
A set of numbers with the school district has already been established for the budget, but Ronish said it’s not what everybody agrees on.
Another teacher, Karen McKee, said there are hard decisions that have to be made. At the same time she told the school board there is a wealth of information and wealth of ideas that are in the community. She made a plea to the school to listen to the people in the community. She was surprised that the school board felt confident enough to make decisions and not seek input from those in the community.
“Hill City is known in tourism is the heart of the Hills. What is the heart of a town?” asked McKee.
She said the school is the heart of the town.
“It’s our children, our future,” McKee said.
Liz Jones, who has three students in the school district, said the teachers who were slated to not have their contract renewed bring out the best in her students.
“My daughter is so excited about middle school science. She was thrilled to be in the science fair,” Jones said. “Science has been a harder subject for her, but this teacher has motivated her.”
Jones also said that her son has a fantastic teacher in Matthew Henderson. In the past her son has been the type of student who doesn’t want to wake up and who hates school.
“He’s really responding to this teacher. His teacher is energetic and knowledgeable and speaks their language,” Jones said.
Other parents and community members spoke in favor of the shop class and its need in the school district.
Joe Klein, who graduated from Hill City High School in 1983, said shop class was the most important class that he took. He said at 53-years-old he uses what he learned from his shop class every day.
Kade McVey, of Hill City, said he works in a trade that is dying.
“If we exclude shop from school, who is going to pick up my trade in the next generation?” McVey asked. “Robots can’t build houses. It doesn’t happen.”
Adam Peyton, freshman at Hill City High School, said the shop program at Hill City High School not only teaches students how to build something with their hands, the students are not using pen and paper for class which makes students who don’t do well in that area feel like they matter.
“This class actually makes students feel like they are doing something, making something,” Peyton said.
He said getting rid of Mr. Kelting and the shop program is not the way to go. He felt like the skills he learned like welding and woodworking are life skills.
“Especially those in rural areas. Instead of hiring a professional you can just save money and do it yourself,” Peyton said. “I know people just in Hill City who were in shop and they still use certain things they built from their shop class.”
Howie Euneau, business owner in Hill City, said he heard nothing but negative feedback about what the school district is doing from people. Some of what has been spread around is misinformation. Through emailing with administrators he has been more educated about the school system.
He would’ve like to have seen the school board table the controversial proposals and send them back to the administrators so another plan would be created.
“What I would ask for tonight and the audience would ask for tonight is a little bit of send-it-back,” Euneau said.
Another point he had was that once things like the shop class is gone it will take a lot of time and energy to bring it back. As a man of many trades, Euneau said there’s quite a lot of influence he received from his high school shop class.
Zach Burch, a Hill City High School alumni, said there are lot of students who don’t do well with book learning.
“I’m hands-on; that’s how I learn,” Burch said.
Through the courses he took at Hill City High School like drafting, welding and wood shop, he was able to take math and writing, then combine it with the hands-on part to use in his life.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a diesel mechanic. I go home filthy. But you know what, I use math, I use science, I use English,” Burch said.
He also said some sort of communication other than what is in the newspaper would be helpful.
Hannah Thomas, a Hill City middle schooler, started a petition to renew Mr. Besco’s teaching contract. On March 13, before the school board meeting began, there were 105 signatures from other middle school students.
“I feel like science is a very important class and Mr. Besco has taught us very well,” Thomas said with tears in her eyes.
Thomas said Besco increased her interest in science more than any other teacher has.
There were 39 science projects at the PIPTO science fair this year. Last year there were three science projects in the middle school area.
Some of that is due to Besco inspiring students to care more about science.
At the end of about an hour of people voicing their opinions about one of the proposed cuts and staff reports, the school board decided to go ahead with the reduction of the three staff members.
Owen Wiederhold, school board president, said being short of funds has given the school board many tough decisions, ones he’s ever had to make.
“We don’t like to make these decisions. Anytime you affect the livelihood of anyone who works for the school system, that hurts,” Wiederhold said. “We just have so much money to spend, and we’re trying to spend it the best that we can.”
Wiederhold said that none of the decisions made are set in stone. If circumstances were to change at the end of the school year then decisions made could be reversed.
Mike Hanson, Hill City Schools superintendent, said there is no challenge greater than what is happening now.
“I, too, have two children in the district and going through this hurts to the cure beyond measurement,” Hanson said. “The new school funding formula as we discussed with the state representatives did us no good.”
Hanson stated that if the school district challenged themselves they will shine brighter and have one of the best organizations for children. He closed his statement by saying the schools will continue to look for improvements and will continue to do that to the best of the district’s ability.