Board members from Williston Public School District No. 1 and Williams County Public School District No. 8 have started to discuss how to handle growing high school enrollment.
On Tuesday, May 14, voters in District 8 will decide on a plan to build new elementary schools and a high school. The elementaries would replace the district’s existing elementary schools and the high school would allow District 8 high school students to be educated in district, instead of going to one of the surrounding districts for their final four years.
On Wednesday, May 8, the president and vice president of both school boards sat down to talk about overcrowding at Williston High School and what the districts can do to work together.
The plan for now is, if the $89 million bond passes, District 8 will build an elementary school first and then a high school, District 8 board Vice President Deanna Senior said. Depending on how enrollment continues to increase, then a decision will be made about the second elementary.
“Ultimately, if we know we’re able to serve the kids with what we have, why would we build another school if we don’t have to,” Senior said.
District 8 school board president Jenny Jorgensen said the process could take a few years.
“If the bond passes and we build an elementary school first, I think a high school is three years away, as much as I hate to say it,” she said.
With Williston High School already over its capacity of 1,200, and with voters rejecting a third proposal to expand the building, District 1 is facing hard choices about what to do.
Joanna Baltes, District 1 school board president, said she wants District 1 to be able to continue educating District 8 high school students.
“No one has an appetite for making a change for the (2019) school year,” she said.
But, she said, that might change for the 2020 school year, when enrollment at WHS is projected to be 1,471.
“We also have to be realistic about what we can do,” Baltes said.
Under state law, districts that have a high school have to accept students from neighboring districts that only offer kindergarten through eighth grade. District 1 officials have argued that the law also allows for a district to refuse out-of-district students if a school is overcrowded.
One topic that came up was the possibility of the district’s collaborating to build a proposed addition to Williston High School that would add capacity for 400 more students. That was part of the plan that failed to reach the required 60 percent supermajority in January and again in April.
“If the bond doesn’t pass, that might be an option,” Jorgensen said.
But, she said, there will be at least one new board member starting in July and there could be two. The district’s school board election is scheduled for June, and Jorgensen is not running for re-election.
While both sides agreed there were benefits to having District 1 and District 8 students attend high school together — the vast majority of District 8’s high-school-aged students attend WHS — there are concerns from at least some residents.
“We’re also hearing from our constituents that they want us to take care of our own kids,” Jorgensen said.
And, she said, if the bond passes, it would be difficult for the board to say the district had decided to collaborate on an addition to WHS when voters had OK’d building a new high school.
“It really depends on what happens next week,” she said.