Discussions continued about how to address the full schools in the north Helena Valley Tuesday night at the Helena School District Board of Trustee meeting.
Although no final decision was made, the public offered some input on three options the board is mulling over.
Of the 900 students who reside in the north valley, around 150 students are bused, sometimes an hour each way, to other elementary schools throughout the district because Rossiter and Jim Darcy elementary schools are full.
The first option is to maintain the status quo.
The second is to add physical capacity to the buildings by adding on to the current infrastructure or installing modules. The estimated cost is between $40,000 and $60,000 per unit, the district says, which doesn’t include plumbing. The projected cost would be between $275,000 and $330,000, paid for with building reserve funds.
The third option is to increase class size as well as support for teachers. The option would accommodate kindergarten students, for example, in the two schools but could increase class size to up to 25 students per classroom, which is in violation of state accreditation standards. Additional staff would be funded through the general fund. The problem with that option is it creates scheduling problems with lunches, physical education classes and music, for example.
“New housing starts are coming,” Superintendent Bruce Messinger said, “so as we speak tonight we are gaining new families in that area.”
Messinger cautioned that any of the proposed changes would be temporary, and it seems the obvious long-term solution is eventually a new building in the North Valley.
“The three options are simply Band-Aids,” Rossiter parent John Bloomquist said.
But if he had to pick on of the presented options, Bloomquist would choose installing modular trailers. He said he hopes trustees resist the option to increase class size because, even in the short term, can have big impact on the education of a child.
Larry Sickerson has a child who is a fourth-grader at Jim Darcy.
Sickerson said he would love the idea of a new school in the north valley, but financially it would be “extraordinarily difficult” for his family to help fund it.
Sickerson said he was thinking outside of the box and proposed another option of an alternative calendar. For example, have portions of the students in each of the buildings attend for different periods of time, alternating back and forth to free up some space within the school.
“It’s really thinking outside the box, but it’s one way to get more space inside the building,” he said. “You have the ability to amend the school calendar.”
Sarah Loewen is the parent of an upcoming kindergartner. She got up early on the first day of registration at Jim Darcy to secure her child’s seat. Her child got in, but others in her neighborhood did not.
“As a former educator, I urge the board to strongly oppose increasing class size,” she said. “By increasing class size to 25, even adding in aides, is very difficult from a classroom-management perspective.”
Loewen said she hopes the district will look at some long-term solution and noted how lucky the district is to be faced with the problem of steady enrollment when so many other districts statewide have a decreased enrollment.
Jamie Carlson said she supports looking at different bus routes to help students have a more express route to and from school and decrease the time spent on the bus.
Messinger said if the district maintains the current enrollment designations a transportation plan could be swifter.
“Even if it’s less efficient, maybe it could be more student-friendly,” Messinger said. There is no specific transportation plan yet, but it’s being looked at, he added.
Trustee Aidan Myhre thanked the public for their comments and stressed that none of the discussed options were long-term fixes.
“As a board, they need some long-term planning that potentially includes building a new facility in that area,” Myhre said. “If we can improve the busing system, although not ideal, it’s a step in the right direction. That’s a short-term, mid-term solution that we could move forward with. That to me seems to be the clearest solution.”
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com