Voters in Williams County Public School District No. 8 rejected a proposal to build three new schools to cope with the district’s rapidly growing enrollment.
Unofficial totals from the evening of Tuesday, May 14, had the first question on the ballot, whether the district could bond for up to $89 million, with 259 yes votes and 303 no votes, or 46 percent for and 54 percent against. The second question, which asked voters to approve raising the district’s debt limit, had 246 vyes votes and 313 no votes, or 44 percent for and 56 percent against.
The totals will become official when the district’s school board meets on Monday, May 20 to canvass the votes.
The plan, which came out of discussions that started last year, called for building two 600-student elementary schools, one on the east side of Williston to replace Garden Valley and one on the west side of the city to replace Round Prairie. The district would also build a high school and athletic complex that could accommodate up to 600 students. Currently, District 8 offers kindergarten through eighth grade, with older students attending high school in one of the other districts in Williams County.
The vast majority, about 200, attend Williston High School in Williston Public School District No. 1.
District 8 has seen immense growth over the last five years, with enrollment increasing from less than 300 in 2014 to more than 660 for this school year. Between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school year, enrollment increased by 35 percent, the second fastest increase in the state.
In the discussion of whether to build new schools, the possibility of adding a high school came up after a proposal to build new schools in District 1 failed in January. With the high school overcrowded, board members in District 1 have considered no longer accepting District 8 students.
Under state law, school districts that have a high school and border a district that doesn’t have to accept the other district’s students. District 1 board members have argued that the law offers an exception when a district is overcrowded.
Enrollment for District 8 is expected to continue increasing over the next several years. Consulting firm RSP projected that there could be as many as 1,600 students, including high schoolers, by 2023.
Board members from both districts met last week to discuss the possibility of collaborating on an expansion to Williston High School, but left any decision on that until after Tuesday’s election.