In a unanimous decision, the North Dakota State Board of Public School Education voted to approve the reorganization plan for Williston school districts 1 and 8 to be presented to voters.

At a special meeting of the State Board on Wednesday, Oct 14, the board convened to discuss the plan submitted and vote whether the plan would be submitted to the voters. The vote came on the heels of two days of hearings and testimony regarding the voluntary transfer of portions of land from District 8 to Tioga, Nesson and Grenora Public School Districts. Those land transfers were approved, helping to move the reorganization plan forward.

Dr. Jeff Thake and David Goetz, superintendents of Districts 1 and 8, presented the plan to the State Board, discussing various aspects of the reorganization, including enrollment, staffing and the new district’s boundaries. Before presenting the plan, Thake shared what the new identity would be for the merged districts: Williston Basin School District #7.

“We subtracted eight from one and we came up with 007, so that’s going to be the number of our district,” Thake explained.

Thake went on to say the effective date of the new district is July 1, 2021, provided that voters in both districts approve the merger, which will be presented to voters on Dec. 8. A vote to elect a school board for the new district would be held soon after, on Dec 16. The new board would move from five members to seven. Thake added that on or before Feb 1, 2021, the new school board would hold a public hearing to present the district’s curriculum and course offerings.

In terms of teacher staffing, Thake said all licensed faculty and staff of both districts would be non-renewed at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year, and on or after March 31, 2021, all staff will receive a notice of contemplative non-renewal. The newly elected board will approve all new hires for the new district.

One area of concern that many residents had voiced during previous discussion was how bussing for rural students would be handled in the event of a reorganization. Goetz explained to the State Board that it would be handled in a “stepping stone” fashion, starting with students who are legally required to be transported. That will be followed by students living outside of city limits, which encompasses current Dist. 8 students, and then students living in city limits who opt to enroll in schools outside city limits. If busses are still open and have room, Goetz said, considerations would be made for remaining students in the district, as well as for students living outside of the district.

“We truly believe this is something that’s going to best for our community,” Thake said of the plan. “We keep hearing across the community that we are so much stronger as one. We’ve been through a lot, and we’re in a really good place right now.”

State Board members took time prior to their vote to commend not only Thake and Goetz, but everyone from both districts who helped create the plan and worked diligently to make sure all the details were finalized. Board members also took a moment to thank the members of the public, both those in support and in opposition, for being engaged in the ongoing discussion for the last year, and for making sure voices on both side of the issue were heard.

“There are still going to be challenges ahead, and, I think my take from this is, your children are watching you, your young people are watching you, and you have done an excellent job thus far of helping them understand what it takes to be collaborative and to move forward when two people don’t think the same thing exactly the same way,” State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said. “I’d encourage all of you in your communities to continue to set that example, because your young people will continue to watch you, not only in your own communities but across the state, and it will live for generations in the minds of the young people watching you.”

The motion passed with a 7-0 vote from the State Board. Another meeting will be held on Monday, Oct. 19 to approve the minutes from the special meeting.

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