Relatively flat enrollment likely to factor into schools’ futures

2010-02-02T00:00:00Z Relatively flat enrollment likely to factor into schools’ futuresROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 02, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Most of the city’s school age children live just west of downtown Billings, in the southern half of the Heights and north of Grand Avenue on the city far west side — a fact that hasn’t changed in two decades.

And, since 1988, elementary school enrollment in Billings School District 2 has stayed nearly flat — dropping from 8,400 students then to 8,100 students last year — while the city’s population has grown by nearly 17,000 people.

“Basically, it shows you how little our (school) population has grown over the last 22 years,” said Kathy Aragon, a board trustee and chairwoman of the district’s planning and development committee.

She wants her committee to use these numbers, coupled with other information, to decide how best to configure the district’s school boundaries once trustees decide just how many schools are sustainable within the district.

Board trustees have begun strategic planning sessions with the Montana School Board Association, part of which will include deciding the optimal number of schools the district should run based on its student population. Once the board decides that, the planning and development committee will look at which schools should serve which student population.

Aragon wants to minimize busing and increase the number of students who can walk and bike to school. For example, deep within Arrowhead Elementary’s school boundary is a small island of Boulder Elementary students the district buses to school.

She also wants the district to operate more efficiently, avoiding short-term decisions that close one school only to open it again a few years later due to population shifts that could have been foreseen.

“Those are things we’ve done, and I think those are things we want to prevent in the future,” she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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