January 23, 2013

School Board struggles to determine future enrollment

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With McKenzie County continuing to be the center of current, as well as proposed, oil development, how many more students will be enrolling in the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 is a perplexing question. And it is a question that the district’s school board and administration is desperately seeking an answer to.
At the heart of the question is if the district continues to grow at its current rate or if the rate should increase, the district needs to begin planning today for an additional school.
Since the start of the 2012-13 school year, when the district saw an enrollment of 705 students, an additional 154 students have helped swell the district’s total student count to 859.
The district, according to Steve Holen, district superintendent, really needs to get its hands around how many students could be in the district not only next year, but in the years ahead.
And those numbers will dictate whether or not the district needs to be planning for an additional school to house the increased student population.
During the school board’s meeting on Monday, Jan. 14, Holen reviewed with the board a study that was completed at the end of 2012 by North Dakota State University that was presented to the Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties. That study projected that based on the last two years in which the district saw an average growth of 23 percent in student enrollment, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 could see a total enrollment of 2,015 students by the 2017-18 school year.
While the growth numbers projected in the NDSU study would indicate that the district is going to quickly outgrow its ability to house students within its two school buildings, the school board agreed that it would like to have another set of eyes look at the district’s proposed growth.
That extra set of eyes is going to come from a Kansas demographic firm, RSP & Associates, which has also done similar demographic studies for the West Fargo, Bismarck, Mandan and Fargo school districts.
“At some time, we’re going to be asking the voters in the school district for a bond issue to build a new school based on our growth,” stated Holen. “We’re going to need better numbers as to what our enrollment is going to be in the future.”
According to Holen, it would cost the district $20,000 to do the demographic work and an additional $10,000 for ICON Engineering to do some initial design work as well as help the district with a possible bond issue.
“The NDSU study is a good start,” stated Holen. “But we need better numbers and we have to plan for an enrollment substantially bigger than what we have now. Whatever we do for a third building has to be based on enrollment. A third building is a huge step. We need to make sure it’s occupied.”
According to Holen, RSP & Associates will have its report to the district by the end of April.
“RSP & Associates will not only be bringing a fresh set of eyes to help look at what our enrollment could be,” stated Holen, “but they can also help us look at what we really need to have as far as the number of school buildings and what type of configuration those schools should be to provide a good education system.”
Holen also informed the board that he has had discussions with two developers in the area who have indicated that property would be available within those residential developments for a new school.
During the meeting, the board also approved the sale of $2,705,000 in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) bonds. The bonds were purchased by Dougherty & Company at an interest rate of 1.59 percent for 15 years.