Gazette opinion: Get involved with your schools this summer

2013-06-23T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Get involved with your schools this summer The Billings Gazette
June 23, 2013 12:10 am

School administrators usually work 12 months a year, but generally the pace is slower during the summer. Not so this year in Billings Public Schools.

Superintendent Terry Bouck, district administrators and principals have a full schedule of immediate changes to accommodate the growing student body and longer-term facilities plans. Billings K-8 schools already were nearly 800 students over designed capacity last year, and the district expects to add 300 more students in August.

Last week, Bouck and Lew Anderson, facilities director, continued conducting community meetings on long-term plans. They held listening sessions at Sandstone and Boulder elementary schools to get public comment on possible sites for two new middle schools that would serve students in grades six, seven and eight.

On July 15, the school board will vote on sites for the two proposed middle schools.

Trustees plan to ask voters to approve a bond issue in November. The proposal will include major renovations at Broadwater and McKinley elementary schools, improvements at other elementary schools and construction of two new middle schools. It may also include construction of a new elementary school and additions to existing elementary schools, depending on what district residents say in an ongoing survey.

About 2,200 surveys were mailed recently to a random sample of SD2 residents, asking their views on whether they would support:

1. $122 million for new middle schools and elementary improvements in November.

2. $38 million for a new elementary school and other elementary additions in 2015.

3. $160 million this November for all the projects in 1 and 2.

The district also is surveying community members on middle school sites. This survey is open to anyone who wants to go online and give an opinion.

The district has identified about 20 potential school sites in the West End and Heights. The proposed middle school sites must be:

 Where students are and will be in the next 10 years. This also will minimize busing costs.

 Served by existing streets, sewer, water and other city services, well-connected in the road network and consistent with city annexation plans.

 Walkable, bikeable and have MET transit access.

 Designed for multiple use or joint use by children and other community members.

 At least 15 acres to provide equitable space for students, compared with existing middle schools.

The criteria provide good common sense guidelines for the trustees’ decision. School leaders must remain keenly aware that whatever choices they make, no schools will be built unless voters approve.

The district, under Bouck’s leadership, is on the right track, but it’s a long time till Nov. 5. There have been dozens of opportunities for public input and there will be dozens more. We urge Billings residents: Find out what’s up with your public schools this summer. Become informed and share your opinions.

Start by going to the link with this Gazette opinion at billingsgazette.com, check the map of potential middle school sites and answer the district’s five-question survey on middle school siting.

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