As a second vote on a plan to build new schools in Williston Public School District No. 1 nears, the district has posted a video highlighting the conditions in the schools.
On April 9, voters will weigh in on whether to issue a $60 million bond to build two new elementary schools and an addition to Williston High School as well as upgrade the district’s existing elementary schools. They’ll also be asked to vote on whether to double the district’s building fund property tax levy.
The 9-minute video, posted to the district’s Facebook page, features interviews with administrators, teachers, school staff and school board President Joanna Baltes, as well as footage from inside the district’s schools. Much of the video is spent highlighting the condition of the buildings, ranging from overcrowded classrooms and common spaces to aging facilities.
In the video, district superintendent Jeffrey Thake says that one of his goals is to make sure every student gets a high-quality education.
“The way we need to do that is to alleviate the overcrowding,” he said.
One reason for the overcrowding is the changing oil industry. Thake notes in the video that while the cycle used to be boom followed by bust, with people leaving town during the bust, people haven’t left.
In fact, enrollment has doubled in 10 years, and projections call for another 15 percent increase over the next five years.
Another problem is the age of the district’s elementary schools. Baltes notes that the district’s elementary buildings were all built between 1951 and 1983 and most haven’t had any significant upgrades beyond the addition of modular classrooms to add more space.
In one elementary school — McVay — 83 percent of students are in modulars, Thake points out in the video.
The video shows some of the issues with the modular classrooms, including doors that don’t seal and windows that allow in condensation.
Elementary grades, especially kindergarten and first grade, have seen enormous growth. Anne Ator, a kindergarten teacher at Hagan Elementary, addressed the issues classes with 29 or more students can have.
Students bump into each other or are interrupted by other students, but it isn’t intentional.
“That’s how life goes when you have so many people in one small space,” Ator said.
The video stops short of directly advocating for a yes vote from viewers, and instead just asks people to get out and vote in the April 9 election. In January, the same proposal won a majority of the votes — between 57 and 58 percent voted yes on both questions — but fell short of the 60 percent required to pass.
Baltes, who was elected to the board in June, does talk about the proposal and what it would mean for the district. She points out that the space for 1,200 more students would be a 40 percent increase and help eliminate overcrowding for several years.
“This is really a historic opportunity for us to move forward with our district,” she said.