SD2 considers population study

2010-06-17T23:46:00Z SD2 considers population studyROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
June 17, 2010 11:46 pm  • 

Billings School District 2 officials met with a Southern California research company Thursday to explore the idea of commissioning a demographic study for the district.

Officials are interested in learning how much growth to expect over the next decade to better design school boundaries that more efficiently distribute the district’s student body. It could also help the district decide if it needs to close schools or build new ones.

“We need good solid data from which to plan,” said Kathy Aragon, a district trustee and chairwoman of the board’s planning and development committee.

Much of the city’s recent residential growth is happening on the West End. SD2 enrollment figures have grown only incrementally — currently around 15,000 students. For the past 20 years, there’s been no significant change in the number of students who attend school in the district while Billings’ population overall has steadily grown.

Still, the district is experiencing some growing pains. With the implementation of all-day kindergarten last decade and smaller student/teacher ratios in the primary grades, the district has needed more classrooms to teach the same number of students.

That shift has led to a space shortage at many of the elementary schools in Billings, where entire classes of kindergartners are bused from their neighborhood schools to schools with more room.

Compounding the problem are the current boundaries on the West End that require many of the students there to attend schools further east rather than the schools nearest their neighborhood.

The hope of trustees and school officials is that an outside study of the district’s current demographics and a projection of its growth over the next 10 years will give them unbiased figures that can be used for smart planning.

“Whatever we end up with we want to be able to defend those numbers,” said Barbara Bryan, board chairwoman.

So officials are talking to Davis Demographics & Planning, based in Riverside, Calif.

“There’s a lot we can do,” said Greg Davis, company president.

The studies his company produces help districts figure out where student-age children will be living in the future, how to house them efficiently in district schools and how to better draw school boundary lines, he said.

“The plan works. The process works,” he said.

He said the study takes about six months to produce and can cost up to $40,000. The district contacted Davis because it uses Davis Demographics & Planning software it purchased two years ago.

Superintendent Jack Copps said the company has an impressive reputation. He has made calls to a handful of the districts that have hired the company and got glowing reports, he said.

Trustee Lindy Graves likes the idea of using an outside company.

“It brings credibility to our numbers,” he said. “I’d just like to have another set of eyes on (that data).”

The board’s next step will be to decide specifically whether it wants the study. Trustees will then vote on whether or not to hire the company.

It’ll be important for Davis’ study to include information from the city’s plan so that the district and the city are working in tandem to plan the future growth of Billings, Aragon said. That way, the district isn’t adding to city blight or urban sprawl, she said.

“I think this has great potential,” she said. “I’m excited.”

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

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