School District 2 will be looking for a new Superintendent after Terry Bouck announced that he's stepping down at the end of the year.
It's unclear exactly how trustees will conduct a search. There's no doubt that a new superintendent will face a to-do list, but none of the items should be as dire as the class-size crunch that Bouck walked into in 2012 that threatened Billings' state accreditation.
During the hiring process, Jeana Lervick, a lawyer for the district, asked trustees to think about "what is the board interested in, in a search firm, in a new superintendent?"
Here are five issues that SD2 is facing that don't have easy fixes:
Textbooks are one of the most accessible barometers of education for students and parents. Some research indicates that student perceptions of textbooks influence how well they read information in textbooks. If it's falling apart and has old information, it doesn't do well.
Teachers have complained about textbooks for years. School District 2 has a cycle for replacing textbooks and other curriculum materials, like videos and lesson guides, but is well behind on several high school subjects.
Replacing textbooks isn't cheap. In a district the size of Billings, overhauling a subject can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. District leaders have pitched a high school levy as instrumental in getting the job done. But a levy this spring failed, as high school levies have for the past 11 years.
High school enrollment
High school enrollment is rising rapidly in Billings as a group of especially large classes transition through middle and high school. The construction of a pair of new middle schools the past two years and a switch to a 6-8 middle school model has helped manage growth in lower grades, but high school facilities aren't sprouting extra classrooms.
Officials at Senior High compared classrooms to sardine cans in 2015, and enrollment continued to increase last school year.
More and younger students have begun taking classes at the Career Center, which has added more general education courses for students to pair with elective courses. But school officials have emphasized maintaining the close-knit character and small class sizes the building typically offers. How to deal with growth that could continue — or just represent a bubble of large class sizes — will be a priority for the district in coming years.
Or, high school enrollment could take a precipitous drop if Lockwood voters establish a new high school. An initial vote on Nov. 7 puts the concept on a ballot, but voters need to approve a second vote with a price tag for building a new high school and running a new district within two years of the first vote. If the votes fail, then Lockwood has to wait for a new five-year window to make another run at a high school.
About 10 percent of SD2 high school students live in Lockwood. The removal of those students would have major budget ramifications for SD2, as most state payments are given to schools on a per-student basis. The law allowing Lockwood to establish a high school does have some mechanisms to smooth the financial transition, but it's likely that SD2 would have to cut jobs to adjust to a smaller student population.
Which students can take which classes at which schools? Working toward providing level playing fields at the districts' 24 elementary schools, six middle schools and three high schools plus the Career Center was a major priority under Bouck. He pushed for similar Advanced Placement and Dual Credit offerings in high schools, and expanded Project Lead the Way, a science, technology engineering and math program, to every elementary school.
But not every school offers the same Project Lead the Way curriculum, and advanced offerings differ from school to school. As new educational initiatives emerge, it'll be up to a new superintendent to ensure that student access to them isn't limited by which Billings public school they attend.
A new superintendent will arrive in the second year of a budget crunch that's seen funding slashed for Montana schools. A pair of cuts have sliced money from school budgets after state revenue estimates have come in below expectations, and changes during the legislative session jacked up local school taxes without giving local districts a say — a move that helped avoid major budget cuts but some administrators fear could jeopardize future levy passage.
Billings will likely dip into reserves, which have been increased over the past several years to near state-allowed maximums, to help get by. But if the funding picture doesn't improve, a new superintendent could be forced to make some difficult choices.