The board for Williams County Public School District No. 8 voted down a motion to dissolve the district at its meeting Monday, Oct. 14.
Board member Myles Fisher made the motion. He said dissolving would guarantee the district’s high school age students a spot at Williston High School. Last month, Williston Public School District No. 1 voted to exclude out-of-district students from the high school because of overcrowding.
“It ends the fighting now and forever more,” he said. “If that’s not reason enough, I don’t know what is.”
Fisher’s motion drew criticism from other members. Board Vice President Curt Sullivan said that District 1 was responsible for excluding District 8 high school students.
“We didn’t shut them out,” Sullivan said.
Board member Dawn Hollingsworth asked Fisher why he thought dissolving would be better than moving forward with the district’s master plan, which calls for adding a high school.
Sullivan also argued that the board should wait until a vote on a new bond. The board has not voted on a bond amount or set a date for that election, but has discussed holding a bond vote to pay for a new elementary school. A proposal to build two 600-student elementary schools and a 600-student high school failed in May.
Fisher, however, argued that previous attempts to get voters to pay for new buildings have failed.
“This board has the power to end this right now,” Fisher said.
Board member Kyle Renner, who seconded the motion, said he did so because it’s an important topic.
“It’s always the elephant in the room that no one is willing to talk about,” he said.
Fisher voted for dissolving, with the other four members voting against it.
After Fisher’s motion failed, Renner made a motion to set up a meeting with the District 8 board, the District 1 board and the county superintendent of schools to discuss how the annexation and dissolution processes work. That passed unanimously.
At Monday’s meeting the board again discussed the possibility of adding a 600-student elementary school and turning Missouri Ridge school into a high school. District superintendent Rob Turner told the board that a proposal to install two modular classrooms and a core space for elementary school students to use would cost about $2.9 million.
The modular classrooms would be on the same site as Missouri Ridge.
The board didn’t vote on the proposal but did vote 3-2 to approve notifying the state’s Department of Public Instruction that it intends to start offering grades nine through 12 starting with the 2020-21 school year.
Fisher and Renner voted against the move. Sullivan, board President Penny Soiseth and board member Dawn Hollingsworth voted for it.
Sullivan said he supported the move but had a reservation. His issue was that if the district notifies the state that it will start offering high school grades, there is no legal recourse to challenge District 1’s decision to exclude District 8 high school students.
He said he didn’t want to sue District 1 but did want more clarity about what the law requires.
Earlier in the meeting, during her president’s report, Soiseth addressed the public about the issue. An opinion earlier this year from Williams County State’s Attorney Marlyce Wilder said District 1 would be able to exclude out-of-district students if the board decided the district was overcrowded.
Soiseth said neither that opinion nor state law specify what overcrowded actually means.
Monday’s meeting attracted a crowd that filled the small board room in the district office and had people standing in the hall. At the start of the meeting, Renner made a motion to add public comment to the agenda, but that failed on a voice vote.