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Laurel schools cut 14 positions after failed levies

Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 25, 2024

The Laurel School District has cut 14 full-time positions after voters failed two levies earlier this year.

The levies would've allocated enough funding for the district to keep these positions, but instead administrators said they were forced to cut $600,000 from the budget.

Superintendent Matt Torix said that the arrangements for these cuts were planned before the voting results came in so the employees had a heads up of what was at stake and could begin looking for new jobs.

"We needed to cut costs, and we wanted to do it as early as we could, so we could give teachers an opportunity to find other employment," Torrix said. "It was a little bit of a bummer, but we tried to be as honest as we could from start to finish."

According to the Laurel Outlook, the teaching positions cut included high school math, history, science and fine arts positions, three instructional coaches, and multiple elementary teachers. Most of those positions were eliminated through attrition or retirements, according to Torix.

The cuts were made after Laurel voters overwhelmingly failed two levies for the high school and elementary schools. Both measures, which would have raised $600,000 for the district, received around 40 percent of the vote.

Torix said the district had no choice, facing serious budget shortfalls, just like many other school districts around the state.

"Montana right now has to look at something from an aspect of funding, because we have to be able to compete," Torix said. "We are having a hard time getting teachers to come here and a big reason why is because of pay."

Montana is ranked 44th in average teacher salary nationwide and 51st in starting teacher pay. Torix said the struggle of bringing teachers in, as well as not having money in the budget to pay them well, has been a major challenge.

"We really owe it to our community to be as fiscally responsible as possible," Torix said.

Laurel isn't alone. In Helena, more than 50 teachers lost their jobs after levies were voted down by voters.

A concerning trend for parents like Allie Holmberg.

"I'm very concerned about it," Holmberg said Tuesday afternoon. "I think teachers deserve a lot more than what they get."

Holmberg lives in Laurel and has two children. While neither is old enough to be in school just yet, she knows that will come soon and she's appreciative of the sacrifices teachers make.

"They're teaching our children to go into the real world," Holmberg said. "They are saints for doing what they do."

Holmberg said part of what she liked about Laurel was the ratio the schools had of students to teachers. She fears that the cuts could lead to bigger class sizes.

"It's really concerning that teachers aren't going to want to continue teaching because they're going to have such volume in their classroom," Holmberg said. "I liked that there was just a little less volume of kids. I'm excited, and I just really hope things can take a turn and they can figure things out."

But the future is uncertain, with many school struggling to manage the budget. Torix said there could be more cuts next year.

"If we're going to make a tough decision, let's impact students as little as possible," Torix said. "That's one of our values, but realistically, it's probably not the last of our cuts."