The board for Williams County Public School District No. 8 is debating whether to include a high school in a potential bond referendum.
At a special meeting Monday, Jan. 29, board members talked about several possibilities for a bond referendum, including two 600-student elementary schools and a 600-student high school. The meeting came after several information sessions, including a session last week attended by nearly 100 residents. An early estimate for the cost of all three schools is approximately $80 million.
On Monday, several audience members spoke up in favor of a plan to include a high school in any expansion plan. Currently, District 8 offers on kindergarten through eighth grade. High school-age students attend school in districts around Williams County, with the vast majority — about 240 — going to Williston High School.
One resident, Monica Weber, said she hoped a high school would be included, especially given the possibility that Williston Public School District No. 1 might consider excluding out-of-district high school students because of overcrowding.
“That way we’re not waiting years for something to happen, when our kids need it now,” she said.
Earlier this month, the District 1 board brought up the possibility of excluding out-of-district high school students. Under state law, students who live in school districts that don’t have high schools can attend high school in a neighboring district.
The neighboring districts generally must take those students, but in the case of a district that’s over capacity, there are exceptions in state law.
District superintendent Rob Turner said Monday that he had gotten a far different feeling from the public this year than he did before a bond vote in 2016.
“What I get is passion this time,” Turner said.
The board tabled a decision on how much the district will ask for in a bond referendum until a special meeting in early February. That meeting will likely be Monday, Feb. 4 or Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Several issues remain to be resolved before the board votes, including final enrollment projections from RSP, a consulting firm, and an estimate on what land to build two or possibly three new schools would cost.
At Monday’s meeting, three board members — Curt Sullivan, board President Jenny Jorgenson and Penny Soiseth — indicated they were in favor of building two elementary schools and a high school.
Board Vice President Deanna Senior said she wanted to wait until getting the enrollment projections before deciding.
“Once we get that, I feel like I could probably make a better educated decision,” she said.
Board member Amber Anderson agreed with Senior, but said she thought a high school was a good idea and would build community.
“I really like the idea of the high school,” she said.
The board is hoping to finalize a resolution calling a bond referendum at its regular meeting on Feb. 11 and holding the election in May.