On Monday, the board for the school district with the largest enrollment in Williams County will meet with the board for the school district that covers the largest area.
Williston Public School District No. 1 has about 4,100 students right now, and it covers 16 square miles. Williams County Public School District No. 8 has about 500 students and covers 1,154 square miles.
The topics up for discussion have not been announced, but the ground rules for the meeting, which takes place at 7 p.m. at the Williston ARC, have. The meeting will last an hour, and Jodi Johnson, the county’s superintendent of schools, will moderate the discussion. Board members from both districts were asked to send their questions to her in advance of the meeting.
The meeting is public, but there is not a time set aside for public comment.
Even though the topics haven’t been announced, there are some things that will likely come up. The first is a new law that allows one school district to transfer property to another. Before that law went into effect, the only way property could move from one district to another was through the annexation process, which generally happens one lot at a time, is subject to regulations and goes through a lengthy process at the county and state levels.
One area where the annexation process used regularly is the Granite Peaks Subdivision in Williston. The housing development is in Williston’s city limits, but the development is part of District 8. That’s because the land was annexed into Williston several years ago, and city annexations don’t have any effect on school district boundaries.
Earlier this year, representatives from Halliburton attended a meeting of both school boards and discussed the idea of having District 8 transfer the entire subdivision to District 1. The District 1 board OK’d pursuing that, but the District 8 board took no action.
Another topic that might come up is a larger discussion of the boundaries between the districts and how they could better line up with Williston’s city limits.
During last year’s negotiations with teachers, during the budgeting process and during the runup to Tuesday’s bond referendum, which failed, District 1 board members have brought up the fact that District 1 is 16 square miles. This year’s taxable valuation for the district is $113,861,121. District 8 on the other hand, is more than 70 times that size, with a taxable valuation of $132,218,317.
In an interview this fall, District 8 Superintendent Rob Turner said he was open to a discussion about the boundaries.
“I want to be reasonable, because we’re here to serve the community and the students, not fight amongst ourselves about taxable valuation,” he said.
As property tax accounts for a large chunk of both districts’ budgets, though, that has to be a consideration.
As District 1 has faced budget crunches and rising enrollment, some community members have asked whether District 1 and District 8 should merge. For that to happen, both boards would have to approve pursuing re-organization, develop a plan and then approve that plan. The Williams County Commission and the state would have to OK the re-organization plan, as well. Then it would go on the ballot and a majority of voters in each district would have to approve it.
District 8 was created in a similar way, when six smaller districts voted to merge in the early 1950s.
School districts can also vote to dissolve. If that were to happen, it would be up to the county and then the state to divide up the district into neighboring ones.