Schools in Williston Public School District No. 1 are overcrowded, and the problem doesn’t look to be going away.
In just under two weeks, voters will weigh in once more on a plan to build new schools in District 1. But what happens if the plan doesn’t pass?
District officials point to the fact that the plan, which includes a $60 million bond and an increase to the district’s building fund property tax levy, came very close to passing in January. About 58 percent of voters said yes to the two questions. That’s more than a majority, but less than the 60 percent required for bond issues and changes to property tax rates to pass.
The money would be used to build two 600-student elementary schools, add space for 400 students at Williston High School and upgrade security and accessibility at the district’s existing elementary schools.
If the vote fails again, the district will have to wait 12 months before it can propose a new plan. With overcrowding at essentially every level, what would happen?
1. Overcrowding would continue.
Without the money to build new schools, the biggest issue — schools dealing with larger and larger numbers of students — would continue until a new solution could be found. As the district’s current first-graders, which is the largest grade right now, progressed through school, class sizes would grow.
That would cause a few problems, according to district officials. First is a continue overload on the district’s facilities and on staff members. That could lead to more turnover and make it harder to recruit new teachers.
It would also mean less individual attention as class sizes grow to 30 and beyond. As class sizes continue to increase, some classes and small groups would have to be held in places not designed for them, including hallways and closets.
2. The district would consider drastic alternatives, including half-day kindergarten and staggered start times.
Depending on how large class sizes became, the district would have to start considering ways to fit an increasing number of students into a smaller space.
One idea, proposed shortly after the failure of both ballot questions in January, would be excluding students from Williams County Public School District No. 8 from the high school.
That possibility would lower enrollment at the high school by about 200 students and was part of the reason District 8 is proposing building its own high school.
While the high school is over capacity, the biggest space crunch is at the elementary level. Depending on how many students registered for kindergarten, the district might consider half-day kindergarten in order to make room for all the students.
Another possibility is staggered schedules, meaning different grades would start and end at different times.
That would likely begin at the high school, but could happen districtwide.
3. The impact could spread beyond the school system.
A committee formed to advocate for the district’s proposal has drawn up talking points to support its arguments. In addition to the overcrowding and the practical effect of schedule changes, the committee’s handouts include points about the impact failing to address overcrowding could have.
Because other communities nearby, including Watford City, have OK’d proposals for new schools, those communities could see growth that might otherwise come to Williston.
That could have an impact beyond just the number of new families coming to the area. It could also mean residents would have to travel farther for some kinds of services, including medical appointments. It could also make Williston less attractive to businesses considering moving to the area.
“If our schools and other amenities are not comparable to the surrounding area, the city becomes a less desirable location for additional services,” the handout reads.