A plan for the future of Bismarck Public Schools is needed to help direct board decisions, according to interim superintendent Jim Haussler.
"We've got to anticipate a little bit of what's going to happen in our community," he said.
At the Bismarck School Board meeting Monday night, Haussler suggested school officials look at "viable options" to address some of the district's over-capacity elementary schools, while also taking into account schools with lower enrollments.
"We know we have some major developments in this community," Haussler said, mentioning the Silver Ranch project that would add 2,800 homes to northeast Bismarck over the next 20 to 30 years.
In response to the immediate and future needs for the district, the Bismarck School Board has agreed to hire a consultant to create a strategic plan for the district. Also, board members will consider potential district boundary changes — an idea that received strong community pushback last year.
"I think what we need to do is look at options. It might provide us direction in not only with boundaries, but when we need to build schools," Haussler said.
Bismarck Public Schools has seen sharp student population growth north of Interstate 94. Last year, it was estimated about half of the district's elementary school students resided in north Bismarck.
The strategic plan and potential boundary changes come on the heels of a committee's recommendations to the school board last year. Suggestions include closing and repurposing Highland Acres Elementary School and Roosevelt Elementary School, which had lower enrollments, while adding onto other elementary schools and making boundary changes.
The school board placed the recommendations on hold until after the first day of school this fall to monitor enrollment growth, and found that the growth was slowing and not as pressing, according to Board President Matt Sagsveen.
Haussler said that not much has changed in regards to student growth since the committee made its recommendations. Elementary schools identified as "hot spots," or schools at, near or above capacity, still have a large number of students and include Centennial, Lincoln and Sunrise. While other schools, such as Myhre, Prairie Rose, Will-Moore and Miller, have declining enrollments.
The school board and district administrators will look at options, including boundary changes and revising the policy on inter-district transfer requests. The goal is for the group to meet in the next month or two, as any boundary changes need to be made prior to March 15, according to Haussler.
Board members agreed all options need to be examined.
"I think we need to work on it hard and make sure that we are attentive to the issues and the hot spots, and I think this is a way to roll up our sleeves and get into it," Sagsveen said.
The school board has agreed to hire Jeff Schatz, retired superintendent of Fargo Public Schools, to complete an "environmental scan" for Bismarck Public Schools this year for $15,000. This will help the district develop a three- to five-year strategic plan, which will include long-term facilities planning.
Haussler told board members the environmental scan includes analyzing district reports, including accreditation reports, a feeder school flow chart and a map of the district boundaries.
Board Member Rick Geloff said the strategic plan also will help the school board make its decisions.
"It's kind of the middle piece that we really need for us to get the information, and for the public to get that information, so we can make proper decisions in the long run," Geloff said.
Sagsveen said the plan will include input from teachers and staff.