Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Nathan Bourne

Complaint Filed Over Alcohol and SLE Outside Discussed


SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Elementary (SLE) Board received a formal complaint regarding the sale of alcohol on school grounds. SLE Outside store’s function and relationship to the school was also discussed at the Aug. 16 board meeting.

Seeley Lake resident LaRee Morris filed a complaint that alleges that the school violated the school board’s own policy when it allowed alcohol to be sold during SLE Outside’s Bob Marshall Music Festival.

The complaint cites SLE board policy - Conduct on School Property 4015 (page 102) that states: “No person on school property shall consume, possess or distribute alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs or possess dangerous weapons at any time.”

Also cited in the complaint is SLE Board Policy - Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace 5020 (page 112) that reads, “All District workplaces are drug and alcohol free. All employees are prohibited from distributing, consuming, possessing or being under the influence of alcohol while on district premises or while performing work for the district.”

Morris feels that just because the state issued a permit for alcohol sales didn’t make it right. She asked if the board is willing to accept responsibility for “the one person who may leave your property, alcohol impaired and get behind the wheel of their vehicle?”

Morris also questioned what message the school was sending kids by having alcohol on school grounds. She feels the school should be a safe place for kids.

SLE Board Chair Todd Johnson said there would be an investigation and the board would respond to the complaint. Morris said she was ok with the response being made public.

SLE Superintendent Chris Stout responded to questions from the Pathfinder to help clarify the relationship of the SLE Outside store and the school.

The store was started, in part, with funding the school earned when it contracted with the US Forest Service to provide facilities to the Morrell Complex fire camp in the summer of 2015. The other part of the startup funding came from private donors in the form of purchased memberships.

The SLE board authorized the expenditure of around $70,000 in funds from the fire contract. Most of the funds were used to purchase inventory from the previous owners of Rocky Mountain Adventure Gear (RMAG). Stout felt that by purchasing the inventory it helped the owners get out from under a business they were considering closing and Seeley Lake would continue to have an outdoor store.

Stout didn’t realize at the time that another party would buy the RMAG building and continue operation under the name, selling and renting outdoor gear.

Theoretically the store would return the money, over time, back to the school by supporting the outdoor program. Neither Stout nor the board feels that profits are the number one goal of the store. The store gives teachers an option for teaching students about business in a more realistic environment.

In the last year several classes have done projects with the store including product research, product design, creating promotional videos and ads. Two high school students also received credits for their work with the store under the supervision of a certified high school teacher and approved by Missoula County Public Schools.

Four school staff members are heading to training this fall on curriculum dealing with business though the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Jobs for Montana’s Graduates program.

Stout explained that the school staff doesn’t separate their hours out and bill the store because it is not a separate entity. The store is treated just like any other extra program the school runs such as basketball or football.

Students who are working and earning paychecks this summer are paid through a grant. The grant takes care of workers compensation insurance and tax withholdings. Stout said he would be willing to work with any business in town to see if they could find a way to get similar grants.

The board plans to review the store’s books late this fall to see if they want to continue running it.

“I think you have to take a look at the viability of the store not only from a profit loss stand point but what is it benefiting the school and the students,” said Johnson. “To me that far outweighs the profit or loss.”

Members of the public in attendance questioned why the school couldn’t use existing private businesses for educational purposes. Stout replied that he has tried and most businesses have liability issues with hiring middle school age students.

Stout addressed the issue of SLE Outside having alcohol at its events including the music festival and store events such as moving showings.

“I recommend that the school in no way shape or form be involved in anything that endorses alcohol from here on out,” said Stout.

Johnson added that the board may discuss and create a policy that would allow the ball fields to host events with alcohol but never as a school event. The school technically owns the land but it is a county park.

Morris pointed out that the ball fields used to be accessed from the opposite side from the school and there was some kind of division between the fields and the school. She feels alcohol should never be sold on school property.

In other business the board approved the hiring of Erika Pitman for the fifth grade teacher and Jama Mauldin for the preschool. Pitman’s hiring is contingent on the Swan Valley School Board releasing her from her letter of intent to teach there. Brett Haines and Dave Evans were hired as football coaches.

The board has a special meeting Friday, Aug. 26 at 8:30 a.m. to adopt the 2016-2017 budgets and approve out of district student applications. Their next regular meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the SLE conference room.


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