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Parents sound off on school crowding

2010-03-10T00:00:00Z Parents sound off on school crowdingBy ALANA LISTOE Independent Record Helena Independent Record
March 10, 2010 12:00 am  • 

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

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(23) Comments

  1. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - March 11, 2010 10:03 am
    I have pointed out that we have closed down schools out there, although they are being used. It would be easier to relocate the programs that are in there now to an empty building some where, why not the Seriously though, like I said before on other threads, the proble is that the county commision approved all these sub-divisions with out addressing the schools issues and a lot of parents bought homes in areas with out looking into the school situation. If I were moving somewhere I would go and look at the schools and talk to the principal and teachers that would be shepherd my kids, and I definately would make sure that the school couls accomodate new students. Does that make too much sense for some of you?
  2. concerned1
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    concerned1 - March 11, 2010 9:31 am
    Maybe they can bus them to Kansas for the School year?!

    It looks like they have the space. They're closing 28-schools there because of a declining enrollment.
  3. 4fishing
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    4fishing - March 11, 2010 7:13 am
    Yes the trailers in boulder housed up to 75 students. They have a wheel chair ramp, they have phones to communicate with the office, and their system for locking down is blasted on the intercom of the phone. So the only other problem as stated would be bathroom/drink breaks. Do these kids rotate frome class to class? If not put the older kids in the trailers, they should be able to travel to the main building to go to the restroom, as they do when the are at recess and need to go to the RR.
  4. Jules
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    Jules - March 10, 2010 11:06 pm
    Portables are used throughout the country as a feasible economic solution. They're used even where air conditioning is needed, which wouldn't have to be a need in Helena during the school year. I'd rather pay a few extra tax bucks for my child to attend a year or two in a portable than this ridiculous MANDATORY choir/band for all 3 years of Middle School. My kids are already in sports and other extra activities. By the time I buy them the mandatory "black/white suit/skirt
  5. MTanan
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    MTanan - March 10, 2010 6:16 pm
    I remember Ray Bjork School, which was an elementary school closed at a time of declining enrollment. I think this was around the time when they created "middle school" instead of the junior high, taking the 6th graders out of their home school and putting 9th graders in the high school. I always thought that was such a bad idea on many levels. But they're never very far sighted on this stuff. But you can't even discuss anything related to the schools unless you're an "education professional".
  6. daerz
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    daerz - March 10, 2010 5:06 pm
    Clearwater, I believe you're referring to Ray Bjork. It's now Ray Bjork Learning Center and houses both a Special Education Preschool and the Gifted/Talented program.
  7. marencolleen
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    marencolleen - March 10, 2010 4:29 pm
    okay, using the carpentry classes, I could see that. The way I saw it was he was suggesting using the buildings. that made no sense.
  8. clearwater_mt
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    clearwater_mt - March 10, 2010 3:26 pm
    Am I the only one in town that remembers that Helena School District closed an elementary school several years ago over off of 9th Ave.? I think the district has the building capacity, they just need to blow the dust off of the buildings they already have.
  9. sweetnovember
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    sweetnovember - March 10, 2010 3:09 pm
    Last night at the meeting for new high school enrollment we were informed that there will 900 new students to enroll in HHS for the 2010-2011 school year. I beleive with the great increase in homes in the North Valley it will need to be addressed with new schools.
  10. MontanaBean
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    MontanaBean - March 10, 2010 2:24 pm
    marencolleen...I think 4fishing was referring to using the HCT, and high schools building classes (not actual buildings and facilities) to help with construction or new buildings.
  11. getaclue
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    getaclue - March 10, 2010 2:16 pm

    marencolleen, 4fish stated an idea, just cause you dont like it does not costitute your reply, even if I agree with you on a new school. 

  12. Solo
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    Solo - March 10, 2010 1:48 pm
    Portable buildings are not all that wonderful. The students get cold/hot. It is disruptive for potty/drink breaks. The extra time to dress appropriately to move between buildings in the winter for young students must also be considered. Security of the outbuildings and students should also be considered in the event of an emergency. The amount of money being discussed for this temporary solution is ridiculous.
    I would rather my children be bused directly from Jim Darcy to another school than be taught in an overcrowded classroom. The quality of the education is far more important than a little extra time on a bus.
    Would it be possble to use Jim Darcy as a K-2 school and build on the new North Star lot for grades 3-5? The schools would still be close enough for parents that would have kids in both places.
    I also like the idea of using available resources. HCT, CHS and HHS have students that could easily contribute to the building process. We also have several other youth programs that perform community service projects; 4-H, girl scouts and boy scouts. Habitat for Humanity is also active here and would probably have someone willing to provide tips on coordinating volunteers.
  13. kdimick
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    kdimick - March 10, 2010 1:16 pm
    marencolleen ~ 4fishing was saying to use the students that are in the "Building/Construction" classes to help build a new school in the valley. That would use our community resources and save the District some money. Plus it would help our local students gain that extra experience.
  14. independantwoman
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    independantwoman - March 10, 2010 1:11 pm

    Go back and reread what 4fishing actually wrote. They stated, "You could also utilize the HCT, Capital High and Helena High BUILDING CLASSES to build it." Not use those places to hold classes. But to BUILD the new additional space, all the while earning credit.
  15. Everhaste
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    Everhaste - March 10, 2010 1:05 pm
    Marencolleen, I believe 4fishing was trying to say use the students of the building classes at HCT, CHS and HCS to help build an add-on to the current school.

    I know members of the schools recently built a home for teen girls for RMDC, but I'm not sure how easy to truck students back and forth from 3 different schools out to the North Valley every day. Not to mention the time that would cut into other classes.

    Personally, I'd also like to see a new school, something that would be a solution to the problem, instead of a quick fix.
  16. althelea
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    althelea - March 10, 2010 12:22 pm
    Marencolleen: I think that 4fishing meant to use the high school and votech students that are enrolled in carpentry classes to build the structures. Free labor and a great educational opportunity.
  17. hadenough
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    hadenough - March 10, 2010 11:11 am
    I grew up in the north valley and still live out there. My son currently attends Jim Darcy School and as some people have stated, it was a race for enrollment to make sure my son would attend school at Jim Darcy. I would like to see Jim Darcy expanded and more classrooms added to the school. That school has remainded unchanged since I was a student there more than 30 years ago. With the added residents moving into the valley and increased tax money coming in from these new residents, I don't understand why there isn't funding or tax money available to build on to this school. It's a great school with great teachers and I think adding on would benefit everyone involved. I believe it was in the 70's that additions were made so why not now. Some see this as a temporary fix...why does this have to be a temporary fix?
  18. marencolleen
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    marencolleen - March 10, 2010 11:00 am
    4fishing: Your theory on using HCT, CHS and HHS classrooms won't work. HHS and CHS are already pretty full and using their classrooms and HCT already uses their classrooms along with the fact that HCT is not part of the Helena School District. Oh and the fact that a bunch of screaming 7 year olds would do more harm than not to the high school and college students studying and concentration. Oh and where are they going to have recess? In the parking lot?
    I too would rather see the district save money and build a new school.
  19. agdcas
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    agdcas - March 10, 2010 9:15 am
    I understand it's difficult for parents and students at the current time, but I would like to see our district saving their money to build a new school at a later time, or increase our taxes to build a new school sooner.
    The proposed solutions will limit future use of those funds so we'll always be playing financial catch-up. The temporary fixes are expensive, low-quality solutions.
  20. repguy
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    repguy - March 10, 2010 8:32 am
    If memory serves me, Jefferson High in Boulder has 3 modular classrooms that they are not using due to decreased enrollment. In the past I know they looked at selling them. That could be a win for both districts.
  21. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - March 10, 2010 6:25 am
    I feel that any of the bandaid solutions are a waste of time other than staying with the status quo. Don't throw away good money on a temporary fix when it could go toward a new school.
  22. 4fishing
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    4fishing - March 10, 2010 6:24 am
    Was also wondering why the trailers need plumbing? They could be used for the older kids, and the older kids could go into the main building to go to the RR or get a drink. Fence the walk ways to keep them safe and from wondering off. They do not need plumbing, they are classrooms and the other classrooms dont have plumbing. Save yourself some money. You could also utilize the HCT, Capital High and Helena High building classes to build it. Just another way to cut cost and use our community resorces.
  23. 4fishing
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    4fishing - March 10, 2010 6:14 am
    How about adding on to the current buildings? Seems like this is an option that could be considered, it would be quicker than building a new school, would keep the kids in the area of their homes. Will they buy the trailers, or rent them?

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