Ramstad’s new start

It’s back to school time for the Minot Public Schools on Wednesday, and changes are afoot.

“The fall is always nice because I love getting the teachers and students back in the building,” said Ione Sautner, principal at Erik Ramstad Middle School.

That would be “Ramstad at the Aud,” the name the school has unofficially gone by for the past two years while it has been situated at the Minot Municipal Auditorium. The old Ramstad Middle School was destroyed by the Souris River Flood of 2011.

But, though Sautner and her teachers and students will start the 2013-2014 school year again at the Auditorium, they will be moving to a brand, spanking new building in northwest Minot over the Thanksgiving break. To say teachers are looking forward to it would be an understatement.

“I’m very excited to go to the new school!” said Samantha Jones, the sixth-grade mathematics teacher at Ramstad.

Jones was setting up her classroom in a portable unit in the auditorium parking lot on Thursday and wondering whether she will be able to take her old bookshelves along when teachers make the big move in November.

“We’ll talk about it,” said Sautner. “I think so.”

Sautner said teachers at Ramstad lost most of the items from their classrooms during the flood, so there will probably be fewer things to move to the new school.

There will be a week-long break for Thanksgiving to give the school district time to make that move before classes resume on Dec. 2.

Two separate vandalism incidents earlier this month one in which paint was splattered over the band room in the new school and one in which two fires were set has not delayed work on the school or the opening date.

“We’re on schedule,” said Sautner.

Two 14-year-old boys are facing charges in juvenile court for the vandalism, which caused more than $100,000 damage.

Jones said teachers and students will also be getting used to some other changes in the classroom. The elementary is introducing a new math curriculum that meets the requirements of the new Common Core standards.

Students at other schools affected by the flood will not have to wait before they move into their new classrooms.

Longfellow Elementary has been remodeled and a new addition is ready and waiting for the new students on Wednesday. This year’s first and second-graders at the school have never attended school in a regular classroom, since school has been held for the past two years in portable classrooms on the side of the building while renovation was being completed. Longfellow was heavily damaged in the flood. Students from Lincoln, destroyed in the flood, had attended classes at the First Presbyterian Church but will now be attending classes at Longfellow. The addition at Longfellow was built as a replacement for Lincoln.

Kids at Lewis and Clark Elementary will also be attending classes in new classrooms. An addition was built to the school to help fill the need caused by explosive growth in the school district.

Jim Hill Middle School students will soon be enjoying a new gymnasium at their scool.

But, while students enjoy new classrooms at some buildings, others in the district are bursting at the seams.

Superintendent Mark Vollmer said the district continues to see a high rate of student growth.

In the 2007-2008 school year, there were 6,097 students in grades K-12 in the district. That grew to 6,255 in 2008-2009, to 6,433 in 2009-2010, to 6,7388 in 2010-2011, to 6,768 in 2011-2012, to 7,035 in 2012-2013 and to 7,254 as school starts for the 2013-2014 school year.

There are currently 23 portable classrooms in use at Minot Public Schools due to the rapid growth and overcrowding: three at Bel Air Elementary; two at Perkett Elementary; two at Edison Elementary; three at Sunnyside Elementary; nine at Washington Elementary and four at Jim Hill Middle School.

“The middle school issue is nipping at our heels,” said Vollmer, who said there won’t be enough room in the current middle schools for this year’s crop of primary school children by the time they hit middle school age. At some point the district will likely also need to build another high school, he said. There are 2,600 children in this year’s crop of kindergarten through third-graders.

The school board is likely to ask voters to approve a bond issue to pay for new school construction, though it has not yet determined which plan they want to take up.

Three school forums were held this spring at which different options were presented to the public.

The first, and most expensive, proposal would cost a combined $145.5 million. It would pay for construction of two new K-5 elementary schools, both with the capacity for 600 students; converting Minot High School-Central Campus into a fourth middle school, building a second high school and renovating Magic City Campus and having two 9-12 high schools, both with the capacity for 1,400 students. The consultant estimated that this would cost the owner of a $200,000 home in the district an additional $535 in property taxes each year for 20 years and would raise the mill levy by 59.64 mills.

The second option presented last spring would cost $125.5 million. Again, it would call for construction of two new elementary schools and converting Central Campus into a fourth middle school and having two new 9-12 high schools and construction of a new high school, but it would leave out renovating Magic City Campus to accommodate more students. It would raise the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home by $462 per year and raise the mill levy by 51.5 mills.

The third option presented last spring would cost $42 million. It would involve just building two new elementary schools and making no changes at the middle school or high school levels. It would raise the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home by $155 per year and raise the mill levy by 17.28 mills.

The fourth option presented last spring would cost $33 million. It would involve construction of one new elementary school, utilizing portable classrooms at the current elementaries, and building additions as needed at existing elementaries. Nothing would be done to the middle school or high schools. It would raise the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home by $122 per year and increase the mill levy by 13.6 mills.

The fifth option last spring would simply address “deferred maintenance” at existing schools, without building any new schools or additions or doing anything to address the growth in the district. It would cost a combined $63.5 million. It would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $235 per year in taxes and would raise the mill levy by 26.2 mills.

All costs were estimates and the board is still taking input about what, if anything, it should do. School construction will likely involve a cost of some kind.

“That is the hard, cold reality of this,” said Vollmer. “You just can’t do this without some kind of increase in the tax structure.”

He said the district is also sponsoring a telephone survey of district residents to garner feedback about which direction the board should take.

“I think the board is leaning towards action,” said Vollmer, although they haven’t decided which direction to take. Vollmer said he’s heard largely positive feedback from patrons in the district about growth, but he thinks there is still some hesitancy about whether the population growth will continue. Most of the district’s projections show that that the growth in student numbers will continue, but Vollmer said they are continuing to monitor enrollment. Vollmer said portable classrooms are only a temporary solution to the problem.