SD2 board continues planning process

2013-01-09T21:20:00Z 2013-01-10T05:21:04Z SD2 board continues planning processBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

At a special meeting Wednesday night, trustees saw what School District 2 could look like if its school boundaries had no boundary islands and what it would cost the district to staff a few newly built schools. 

Over the past decade, as Billings grew west, SD2 began to assign individual housing developments to schools that had room for the growth rather than to the schools nearest the homes. 

As a result, pockets of homes sprung up in one school's attendance boundary that were assigned to schools across town. 

Cropper GIS, the demographics firm hired by the district as part of its master facilities plan, presented to the public at Wednesday's meeting what the district would look like without those pockets of students. 

"These are not considered final or even draft considerations," director Matt Cropper said of the boundary maps.

He called them tests, showing the district what it could do with the demographic data and computer programs it now has. 

The boundaries map showed brightly colored clusters across Billings with a school near the center, wrapping from the Heights down through downtown and to the South Side.

As the map moved west, the clusters began to stretch until they looked more like elongated smears of color covering the West End of the city. Rather than sitting in the center, schools began to appear on the far east end of the smear with the school's boundaries stretching far to the west. 

"This indicated for us that there is an imbalance," Cropper said, suggesting a new school on the West End would bring some equilibrium.

However, the representatives at Cropper GIS were careful to point out that as demographers, they weren't calling for any kind of action from the district. 

"We're not proposing any solutions at all. We're trying to define your problems," demographer Jerry McKibben said. 

With its master facilities plan, the district is weighing five options that call for some combination of building a new elementary school and two new middle schools, adding space to a number of existing schools and updating the district's oldest schools. 

The new master facilities plan was commissioned by SD2 last summer and is being developed by Billings-based O2 Architects and national design firm DLR Group.

There was some frustration expressed by parents at the meeting that there weren't a few more options, something a little more nuanced than the five that are being recommended by the architecture firms. 

Some parents want the district to redraw school boundaries first and then figure out where new construction and space additions would be most beneficial. 

The various proposals would cost the district more than $100 million. 

However, more daunting for the district is the cost of staffing the schools should new construction ever take place. 

Early projections from the district put the cost at roughly $4.5 million annually to maintain staffing levels at any new and expanded schools.

With the board's direction, Superintendent Terry Bouck will work with the staff to develop scenarios outlining the different options now open to the district for the board's regular meeting on Jan. 21.

Trustees will then use those scenarios to develop a final draft of the master plan that the board can adopt at a special meeting on Feb. 4.

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