AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
As McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 has faced exponential enrollment growth over the past seven years, the district has faced a corresponding shortage of school buildings to house the students.
And last Friday marked another big day for the district as it broke ground for a second elementary school. The new 600-student capacity elementary school, which is estimated to cost $33 million, is scheduled to open at the start of the 2020-2021 school year and will immediately begin to solve many of the crowding issues that the school district has been facing.
What is hard to imagine is that back in 2010, just nine short years ago, the total enrollment in the school district was 582 students. Today, there are more students enrolled in kindergarten through second grade than there were enrolled in the entire district back then.
And that unprecedented growth forced to district to expand its current elementary school to accommodate 600 students in 2012 and build a new high school three years ago.
The new elementary school, when it opens in 15 months, will definitely help solve the current overcrowding issues that the district is facing today. And while the school district will be bringing back portable classrooms at the existing elementary school next fall to meet new student numbers, one can never assume that the district will not again be forced to use portable classrooms or look at the need for a third elementary school once the new elementary school opens.
As one of the fastest growing school districts in North Dakota, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1’s current enrollment is just over 1,800 students. But the projected enrollment numbers indicate that the district is going to continue to grow at a fairly rapid pace and could hit 2,600 students at the start of the 2023-24 school year and could reach 3,800 students by the start of the 2028-29 school year.
If those projections are accurate, then clearly the district will be looking at building more elementary school buildings, as well as looking at ways to expand the existing middle school and high school.
Fortunately for students attending Watford City’s schools, the district’s taxpayers have overwhelmingly supported the last two bond votes. And that local public support of education is in stark contrast to what has happened in nearby school districts where voters have turned down bond measures to build new schools.
While last Friday’s new elementary school ground-breaking was a big day for our school district, it was also a celebration of this area’s commitment to providing a quality education for all of our children.