Billings Public Schools have released new interactive maps to the public to help determine changes to their school boundaries in the hopes of alleviating currently overcrowded schools.
The map, designed by K-12 planning firm Cropper GIS Consulting, illustrates both the current boundary lines for all of School District 2’s elementary, middle and high schools along with the new recommended boundary lines.
During his presentation of the proposed maps at the November Board of Trustees meeting, Cropper GIS President Matt Cropper highlighted the growth in student population specifically on the west end of Billings and said the goal of the new boundaries is to move as few students as possible to avoid disruption while also maximizing transportation efficiency and safety, balancing building utilization and keeping neighborhoods and subdivisions in the same school zones.
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He did add that potential satellite zones – areas not contiguous with the rest of the school zone – may be needed to accommodate the current population growth on the west end without overloading nearby schools, though they would want to keep these to a minimum.
“You look west of Shiloh, you don’t have much in terms of school capacity but… you can see that there’s a lot of homes, a lot of residential subdivisions and neighborhoods [that] have been developed,” he said. “And so, we are seeing a need to create some satellite areas to try to provide relief to schools on the west end and…provide more students to schools that are closer into town that have available capacity.”
Boulder and Meadowlark elementary schools were highlighted as operating over capacity along with Ben Steele Middle School based on last year’s enrollment figures. All three high schools were also reported to be nearing or above operating capacity with both Senior and West High over 125%. One caveat in these findings is that the students across the three schools attending the Career Center either part-time or full-time are not mentioned in the report.
The recommended changes to the school boundaries are primarily shifting students from overcrowded schools like Boulder and Ben Steele slightly over east to nearby schools who would then shift some of their students over to prevent any new overcrowding. The Independent Elementary school district in the heights would also have a portion of their outgoing students attend Medicine Crow Middle school rather than all of them attend Castle Rock.
The study also took into account future city growth and incoming and outgoing trends for each individual school in order to maintain optimal building utilization over the next few years.
Grandfathering students already attending certain schools was also mentioned as potential options for any families in the current system that may wish to remain in their current boundaries. Additionally, incoming siblings of students in the previous zones may also opt to for grandfathering to ensure they can attend the same schools. The only condition would be for families to determine their own transportation arrangements.
The schools’ current boundaries were put in place in 2017 to account for both the then-newly constructed Ben Steele and Medicine Crow middle schools and the changed alignment to the current K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 school model. Since then, the district decided to revisit the boundaries roughly every 5-7 years to account for any shifting demographics that may take place over that time.
K-12 Executive Director for SD2 Brenda Koch said the current boundaries didn’t have much of a way to accommodate the newer subdivisions as they were developed outside of placing new students in schools where space was available as needed.
“Where our schools are built are not necessarily always where families are going to be residing,” she told the board. “It’s a process that, prior to 2017, as new subdivisions would come on, we would just kind of pluck them onto a school… and we were crisscrossing across the district which wasn’t good for anyone.”
Koch added that new services for students have also developed since the most recent boundaries were set that include additional resource officers and nursing services and that overcrowded classrooms have resulted in new student behavior challenges in recent years.
The maps were presented to the board as drafts and subsequently posted on the district's website for the public to view and submit recommendations to the board. The district is aiming to approve a finalized plan no later than February 2023 so that they can be implemented in time for the 2023-24 school year.
The proposed maps can be found at https://croppermap.com/billingsredistricting/.