Prioritizing School Decisions

I’ve noticed articles about school board activities in different parts of the nation.  As I have thought about things, I’m tempted to alter Clauswitz’ quote – “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult”

I came on to Trego’s school board when we had 4 ANB – that’s an abbreviation for Average Number Belonging.  It’s defined in 20-9-311 in Montana Codes Annotated.  It means we were just about out of business.  A couple years later, we have the school back in business, but even the simplest thing is difficult.  Here’s where you learn to count students and figure out funding.

Deciding what to do as a school board member is very simple – but the way a school functions makes the simplest of things difficult.  I’ve developed a priority list to help make decisions.

  1. Is this decision in the student’s best interest?
  2. Is this decision in the school’s best interest?
  3. Is this decision in the community’s best interest?
  4. Is this decision in the employees’ best interest?
  5. Is this decision in the board and board members’ best interest?

The students’ best interests come first.  My own priorities are that learning needs to be enjoyable and that academics comes first among student activities.  I see room for athletics and special events – but those are secondary.  A simple thing, made difficult by conflicting or undecided priorities.

The school, as a local institution, and building comes second.  Our school at Trego was built in the mid-sixties, to Corps of Engineers standards.  It has lasted a half-century without a fund dedicated to a planned maintenance schedule.  I’ve seen century-old schools in good shape in their second century, and 50 year-old buildings demolished due to poor maintenance.   Our facility was built by an earlier generation, and needs to be maintained for the future.  A simple thing – but the building has no voice and maintenance can always be put off until later.

The Trego community and residents who fund the school come third. Don’t take this out of context because the staff comes fourth.  If they aren’t working for those first three priorities, we have a problem.  Teachers, janitor, cook, clerk, bus driver are all needed.  This is the personnel management spot, where conflict and strife combine to make even the simple things difficult.

Board members individually and as a group have the lowest priority.  We are unpaid and ideally the positions should be sought as a civic responsibility. 

Everything that comes before your school board is very simple – but even the simplest thing is difficult. 


Trego School Enrollment Soars

Enrollment at Trego School continues to rise, in defiance of the historical trend. For the last few decades, school enrollment has been fairly steadily dropping. How low did enrollment actually get? The lowest official ANB (Average Number Belonging -i.e. the official state count of students) that I can find is seven, in the spring of the 2018-2019 school year. Enrollment actually continued to decline after that date, but didn’t make the official state count which is used to determine the district’s funding.

The most recent data, using the spring and fall ANB count provided by the state looks like this:

Time PeriodNumber of Students
Fall 201326
Spring 201428
Fall 201425
Spring 201527
Fall 201522
Spring 201622
Fall 201620
Spring 201720
Fall 201715
Spring 201813
Fall 201810
Spring 20197
Fall 201910
Spring 202014
Official ANB for Trego School, data from Montana Office of Public Instruction
In graph form the trend is somewhat clearer.

This data for this school year (2020-2021) isn’t available from the state yet, so the best way to find out about enrollment is to call the school and ask. Back in November, we reported the exciting news that enrollment was up to 23 students and we shared the following graph which incorporated that data.

Trego School enrollment as of November 2020

This January, enrollment reached 26.

Now, enrollment is up from January’s 26, to a total of 31 students. A 35% increase from November of 2020. This fall, Trego school optimistically began with three teachers. Now, with 31 students the average class size is slightly over 10. The school has been working to improve its enrollment, and has seen an amazing turn around. Even if we use the lowest official ANB number (which is decidedly higher than the lowest number the school reached), the school has more than quadrupled enrollment in the past two years.

Trego School enrollment, by year, as of late February, 2021. We’re going to have to consider changing our trend-line….

Well done, Trego School. Where will you go from here?