In the next few years, sixth-graders in School District 2 are likely to join middle school, leaving behind their elementary school counterparts, as trustees move forward with a plan to modernize the school district.
Trustees voted Monday night to take the next step toward reconfiguring the SD2 elementary schools as kindergarten through fifth grade.
The change is one option presented to trustees as part of the master facilities plan process the district has undertaken over the past six months.
With Monday night's vote in place, O2 Architects in Billings and national design firm DLR Group will create draft plans of what a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 school district would look like.
The board will have to approve those plans and then pass a multimillion-dollar bond with voters before grade configurations would actually change.
The entire process would take three years after a successful bond vote and involve the construction of new middle schools — and possibly new elementary schools — along with additions to existing schools.
The switch would mark a significant change for the district. For that reason, Trustee Pam Ellis wanted to make sure the public had time to digest the plan and comment on it.
She felt the vote Monday night was too soon and called it a "stealth decision" by the board as it didn't leave enough time for public comment.
Earlier in the evening, Superintendent Terry Bouck pointed out to the board that since September he had attended 25 meetings with community groups and sat down for a local radio show to discuss the district's planning process.
The district also has held a series of community meetings through the fall with O2 and DLR representatives to map out the master facilities plan.
There's been ample opportunity for public input and feedback, Trustee Greta Besch Moen said.
SD2 officials are hopeful that as the planning process gains momentum more community members will come to meetings and offer input.
The district has paid nearly $300,000 for the master facilities plan, which includes a complete demographic study of the school district.
Bouck called it "money well spent" and said moving forward with the planning process allows O2 and DLR to do what the district hired them to do.
"You need to support the professionals you've hired," he said.
The draft plan for the new K-5 grade configuration for SD2 will be presented at a February meeting for the community.
Monday night's meeting began on a somber note with trustees holding a moment of silence for the 20 first-graders and seven adults killed by a gunman on Friday in Newtown, Conn.