Bitterroot Icons: Lone Rock School

Formed in 1885, Lone Rock School was originally built closer to Ambrose Creek and was named Lone Stone School.

Perry Backus - Ravalli Republic

The student enrollment is tumbling at Lone Rock School and so is funding.

Trustee Gary Leese said the board is making decisions based on priorities. Ideas from the community are welcome.

The Lone Rock budget committee met Feb. 29 to discuss budgets from this year and next.

“We’re trying to bring solutions together and see where we can go,” Leese said. “Obviously, as every school in the valley has encountered, school funding is awful tight and ours is no different. Our enrollment has dropped 100 students in the last four to five years and is still shaking. We take out-of-district kids if we have room.”

Lone Rock policy says they will take students if there is room for in-district students also. Accreditation standards for kindergarten are 20 students per room.

“So, if the kindergarten class has 16 students we would take two more from out-of-district,” Leese said. “What if we have 24 kids? Now we can put an aide in there but as soon as we have 25 we need a second teacher. So, you see the kind of dilemmas we are facing.”

School funding from the state is based on three-year averages for ANB money. ANB stands for average number belonging. Schools report a student count on specific days of the school year, those numbers are averaged and school funding is based on the count.

The Lone Rock enrollment average last year was 280. The enrollment this year is 223.

“With those numbers, our figures dropped $112,000 this year,” Leese said. “Next year we may come in with a loss of $50,000 to $70,000. So, how do we stop the landslide?”

Leese said the school receives about $4,900 in ANB money for each out-of-district student.

“The district’s total costs are about $2.2 million, if you divide that amount by the total enrollment, you see that’s about $10,000 per student,” Leese said. “Sixteen years ago we took our seventh and eighth graders from Stevensville and initiated a middle school program and three years ago we built a new gym. At the time, our enrollment was going strong.”

Leese said now the infrastructure has to be maintained. He wonders if the school should take the money for out-of-district students.

“Is it cheaper to pay $5,000 and maintain the facility or is it cheaper to let them help us, pay $5,000 and utilize the facility?” Leese said. “Otherwise we’re going to pay the whole $10,000.”

The Lone Rock budget committee includes two community members, two certified staff and two classified staff members and administration. Its meetings are open to the public.

“Yesterday was a chance to give more transparency to those people of not only where our budget is at but what we are faced with to make accommodations,” Leese said.

Leese said the school would prefer not to run a levy on community members, many of whom are on a fixed income, but may be out of options.

The Lone Rock trustees have a special meeting scheduled to discuss the administrative configuration and superintendent search at 6 p.m. on March 8 in the Lone Rock Middle School library.

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.

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Reporter at The Ravalli Republic