HEART BUTTE — It was a tense and emotional outcome to Tuesday night's Heart Butte School District Board meeting. An audit that uncovered the misappropriation of school funds, lead to board members voting to reduce 30 "non-essential" staff members.
The school cafeteria was full, with concerned parents, grandparents, and employees whose jobs were ultimately in limbo.
A public comment period was offered to those in attendance and many of which did not criticize the school board for the tough decision. The final ruling is in anticipation the staff lay-offs will help the school remain open through 2024.
"It is the intent of the Board of Trustees to discuss the proposal on the agenda and process, gather input from the community as to how the district can continue," read Board Chairman Forrest Calf Boss Ribs.
MTN was told before the meeting that those who were listed in the agenda were not allowed to speak but many still shared their feelings.
"I've been here since my partner is now in seventh grade. So this is my eighth year. If we're going by seniority, I've been here longer as a TA," exclaimed Stacy Aimsback, former Teacher's Assistant.
"You couldn't put it off a week and then try to figure out if there was a solution to everything before you laid off these people. I just don't understand why people." Another woman questioned in public comment.
She was addressing the prior notions from Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen (R-MT) who was in attendance. It was brought to the boards attention that OPI would work hand and hand to find a solution prior to their final vote.
With the lay-offs effective immediately, the concern comes from what happens Wednesday morning.
"Who's going to be here for them for the rest of the week? My teacher is on maternity leave."
Members of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council both expressed their willingness to help the school stay open. Although, the decision hit close to home.
"We don't we don't envy you. We're in a position like that. We have to make that decision. We are looking at how we can help," explained a Tribal Business Council member.
One major concern as the school is on the verge of shutting the lights off, is sending the approximate 190 students to surrounding schools to continue their education. Browning is about 25 miles north, while Valier sits 34 miles southeast.
"I don't want to see my grandsons... go to Browning or Valier to where they're going to feel like they don't fit in, that they're not comfortable there, they're not wanted there," added another concerned family member.
As Public Comment closed, the Heart Butte School board reluctantly voted in favor to cut the positions of 30 staff members. The emotional outcome has lead to a number of unanswered questions as Wednesday brings another school day.
MTN will continue to follow the developments within the Heart Butte School District.