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Seeley Lake Elementary School unsure of future without Pyramid Mountain Lumber

The announcement that Seeley Lake's largest employer is closing will have wide ranging impacts
Seeley Lake Elementary
Posted at 1:11 PM, Mar 29, 2024

SEELEY LAKE — The closure of Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake has been heartbreaking to the community.

The general consensus is that everyone and everything in town will be touched by the closure, including the elementary school.

Seeley Lake Elementary School is funded on a per-student basis which means the more students they have enrolled, the more funding they receive.

That is where the impact of the mill closure will be seen as 10% of the school’s 165 students have parents who work at Pyramid Mountain Lumber.

The worry is if those family members who worked at the mill can’t find employment in town, they may have to move. Not only would the family move, but so would their student funding.

Seeley Lake Elementary School Inside
Seeley Lake Elementary School is funded on a per-student basis which means the more students they have enrolled, the more funding they receive.

“I mean that’s a lot of money… And that’s when we’re going to be looking at cutting positions and… we’re already running on a super tight budget.”

That is what Heather Mincey, District Clerk Business Manager of Seeley Lake and Swan Valley elementary schools, told MTN — and she’s the one that runs the books for the schools.

Those books are vital to Seeley Lake because, after Pyramid Mountain Lumber, the school is the next largest employer in town.

When Todd Johnson, President of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, spoke to MTN, he said he hoped the schools could offer jobs to mill workers after the closure.

But Josh Gibbs, the principal and superintendent of Seeley Lake School District, said that while some positions are open, a big hurdle comes with them — most require a degree.

He explained that the school does “have a couple positions that you don’t need a degree for but it’s not, you know it’d be a drop in the bucket for what needs to be filled with the closure of the mill.”

Heather Mincey
“I mean that’s a lot of money… And that’s when we’re going to be looking at cutting positions and… we’re already running on a super tight budget," explained Heather Mincey, the District Clerk Business Manager of Seeley Lake and Swan Valley elementary schools.

Besides just affecting the school, people are starting to grasp what the closure means for themselves, and their friends.

“We actually have a friend and he works at the mill, and they just bought a house," Mincey said. "And… they’re smart. They can find something. But… at what cost?”

The cost is difficult to know right now, and whatever it might end up being, there is a worry that it will come with unwelcome change.

Change would come because of the next biggest source of revenue for Seeley Lake — tourism.

“I think, I’m hoping that they can, that they can somehow try and save it. Because I don’t want Seeley to become a Whitefish or a Bozeman,” said Mincey.

Josh Gibbs
Seeley Lake School District principal and superintendent Josh Gibbs says the school has some positions open, but most require a degree.

Tourism is what the community hopes will keep the town above water as during the summertime, the local economy stays healthy with outside money coming in.

The money only comes in during the summer however and the mill is what kept the lights on during the winter.

Worry lies in the thought that Seeley Lake may have to transition to a tourism-based economy, something that Mincey is hoping, won’t happen.

“You know that is our biggest employer and it is," Mincey said. "It gives people an honest job here. And I don’t want to see those dynamics change.”