After a vote Tuesday where nearly 60 percent opposed issuing a $77.2 million bond to build and add on to schools, Williston Public School District No. 1 is left to decide how best to handle the increase in students it sees coming.
Unofficial results had 916 people voting for the bond, while 1,293 voted against it.
The district had proposed the bond to build two elementary schools — each with a capacity of 600 students — to replace Rickard and Wilkinson elementaries and to add on to Williston High School, which opened in 2016.
School board members and district officials argued that schools, especially at the elementary level, were already overcrowded with the 4,100 or so students enrolled this year. More are expected.
“We’re still anticipating 500 kindergarten students,” district superintendent Michael Campbell said of the 2018-19 school year.
There are about 250 high school seniors in the district, so if all of them graduate, there will be at least 250 new students next year.
“We’re going to double that class in size,” Campbell said.
School board President Kimberly Semenko said the board hadn’t met to discuss what the district should do next, but that she wasn’t willing to discount any ideas yet.
“I think all options are open,” Semenko said.
The most pressing issue in her mind was what will happen next school year.
“Our main concern right now is how we best prepare to serve the students we have right now and where we’re going to put them,” she said.
There are seven classrooms at the elementary level that aren’t being used for a particular grade. But, Campbell said, that doesn’t mean they aren’t being used — teachers and staff are using those classrooms for small-group or one-on-one instruction.
“Those classrooms aren’t collecting cobwebs and dust,” he said.
Filling every classroom with a class means things like small-group instruction will have to go somewhere else. When space was tight before the high school was built, that meant finding space in hallways or broom closets.
That isn’t a figure of speech, Semenko said. Teachers taught wherever there was space, and they might have to again.
“The issue is real,” she said.
Campbell said his main concern is finding space for the students expected next year. That might mean more modular classrooms, or it might mean finding a rental property that is suitable for students.
Suitable means a space that meets fire code, safety regulations and Americans with Disabilities Act rules.
If the district does go with modular classrooms, Campbell wants them to be very temporary.
Semenko, too, argued that the district shouldn’t invest much money in modular classrooms.
They can be expensive, she said, especially when the costs of connecting them with the rest of the school is factored in.
But, she said, that’s a decision that will have to be made by the full board. The board has two special meetings scheduled for Monday. The first, at 8:30 a.m., is the official canvass of votes. The second, at 7 p.m. at the Williston ARC, is a meeting with Williams County Public School District No. 8. The topics up for discussion at that meeting, which is set to last one hour and will not include public comments or questions, have not been announced yet.
Calculating the number of eligible voters in District 1 is difficult because the district and city boundaries don’t line up, but according to the 2016 U.S. Census estimates, there were about 18,000 people 18 years old or older in Williston.
The turnout of 2,209 voters is lower than the last two bond referendums in Williston, though. In 2014, when voters approved a $34 million bond to build the high school, 3,617 voted, with 2,738 votes for and 879 against. In December 2012, when voters rejected a $55 million bond that would have repaired some elementary schools and replaced one, 2,517 came out. In that election, 551 voted to approve and 1,966 voted to reject.
District 8, which has also seen growing enrollment, saw voters reject a bond on several occasions over the last few years. The school board decided to use the district’s building fund to build a school to replace Stony Creek Middle School, which is located on land whose lease has expired. That project has expanded to handle kindergarten through eighth grade for a cost of around $20 million. It is set to open in the fall.