Minot school enrollments up, nowhere near 70s high

Enrollment in the Minot Public Schools currently stands at 7,400 students, but that does not compare to the student numbers the district saw back in the early 1970s.

According to figures on file in the school district administration office, the highest number of kids ever enrolled in the school district in the last 50 years occurred in 1971, when there were 10,683 students enrolled in grades 1-12.

Superintendent Mark Vollmer said some of the numbers are estimates and he is not certain whether they refer to spring or fall enrollment, but the historical enrollment numbers still show a sharp fluctuation from year to year, reflecting the addition of Minot Air Force Base and other changes in the population of Minot and the surrounding area. In the early 2000s, prior to the oil boom that has brought more people to the area, demographers had been predicting a steady decline in student numbers for Minot and all other schools in the state.

That downward trend was checked beginning with the 2008 school year, when student numbers increased from 6,193 the previous year to 6,216. Numbers have increased by almost 1,000 students in the last five years. A demographics study commissioned by the district predicts the addition of another 1,000 students during the next five years. Vollmer said schools in the district are currently overcrowded. Every portable classroom the district owns is in use, with 24 portable classrooms in use at seven different schools. Vollmer said other classes are held in less than ideal settings, such as old locker rooms.

Still, the district has more than 3,000 fewer students than were enrolled in 1971. Vollmer said there have been changes in the last 40 years that increase the demand for space, such as special education programs, technology and vocational classes. In 2010, when full-day kindergarten was implemented, that meant the school district needed to double the number of kindergarten classrooms in the elementary schools since more kids were attending all day and two classes of kindergarteners could no longer share some kindergarten classrooms. The state also increased graduation requirements a few years ago, which increased the number of classrooms needed at the high school level.

South Prairie voters passed a $12 million bond issue this week that will fund construction of a new high school. There are currently 82 South Prairie students attending Minot High School. Nedrose voters will likely also vote early next year on whether to build a new high school there. Vollmer said there will still be a need for more space in the Minot Public Schools even without the Nedrose and South Prairie students. The demographics study for Minot Public Schools did not include Nedrose or South Prairie students.

Minot voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to approve a $125 million bond issue that would pay for new school construction.

If approved, the $125 million school bond issue would raise money for a number of identified projects, including a new 550 student elementary school on 10 acres of land already owned by the district at the corner of 37th Avenue and 13th Street Southeast, the purchase of land in north Minot and construction of a second 9-12 high school, converting Central Campus into a fourth middle school for the school district, renovating Magic City Campus so it could accommodate grades 9-12, additions as needed at other elementaries and safety and security measures, such as relocating school offices closer to front entrances and adding more video cameras at schools.

If approved, the bond issue issue in Minot would raise the school district mill levy by 51 mills. The owner of a $200,000 home in Minot could expect to pay an additional $456 per year. Voters are also being asked to increase the school district’s debt by an additional 5 percent beyond the current 5 percent debt limit set by the state constitution.

The bond issue requires 60 percent or greater approval to pass.

Opponents of the bond issue have suggested that money for school construction should come from the state’s Common Schools Land Trust. Vollmer said every state official the district has talked to has said that isn’t possible without changing the state constitution and federal law. Area legislators have requested an opinion on the matter from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, but Stenehjem has not yet issued an opinion.

Vollmer said the board would have to decide what steps to take next if the bond issue does not pass. He said a “no” vote would not change the overcrowding situation or the need to do something about it.

Some states have dealt with crowding by holding school year-round, with one group of kids attending classes in different sessions than other kids. Vollmer said year-round school has been raised as a possibility before in North Dakota but has never been met with much enthusiasm.

Vollmer encouraged people with questions about the bond issue to call his office or to look at the school district’s web site.