Bozeman schools see more students than ever but no plans to build any time soon


Bozeman schools see more students than ever but no plans to build any time soon

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Bozeman School District reports record enrollment for 2013-2014 school year. The increase comes on the heels of opening the district's eighth elementary school, a $20 million project.

Between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade, the district added a total of 221 students. The elementary schools, grades  pre-k through fifth saw the greatest growth with 104 students total. Middle school grades sixth through eighth increased by 63 students and Bozeman High School added 54 students.

While the district now has eight elementary schools, it has just two middle schools and only one high school.

We wanted to know if this growth is in line with the district's plans and if students felt crowded.

"As the community grows, as the economy picks up a little bit, the schools are feeling that as well," says Bozeman Schools Deputy Superintendent of Operations Steve Johnson.

We sat down with Johnson to crunch the numbers. He says the district's eighth elementary took the pressure off the other seven, but with a 5-percent increase in the middle schools this year, Johnson projects it will be the next pressure point for the district.

"We've got larger classes in the elementaries that are feeding now into the middle schools," explains Johnson.

Johnson says they expect to reach capacity in about two years. When it comes to the high school, he says it'll take around six or seven years before it's full. While Johnson says they're looking to the future and planning for continued growth, he tells us the district's not ready to build any time soon.

"If you wanted a building done by 2020, you'd have to start 2016, 2017. I really don't anticipate that the community will be ready to do that," Johnson says.

We went to Bozeman High School to see what students think about growth and record enrollment.

"I think it's definitely overcrowded," says Bozeman High School freshman Sadie Gnauck.

Gnauck says she's feeling the district's growth and she's not the only one.

"In the hallways it gets really crowded," says Lilly Oster.

Lyndale Stewart agrees. "It gets congested, the hallways. It's pretty hard to get to class completely on time," explains Stewart.

But we spoke to one student who tells us she likes the feel of the 1,900 student high school.

"It's kind of cozy and there's definitely a lot more variety of people," explains freshman Emily Brown.

Johnson says the class sizes of all of the schools in the district meet state standards and estimates the high school can take another 500 students before they'll need a new facility. Johnson adds the district is not able to ask voters for the money it will take to build a new high school right now.

He says the high school district has a legal debt limit of $73 million. The district used around $40 million to renovate Bozeman High School. They've paid some of it back but Johnson says what's left over is still not enough to build a 1,500 student high school.

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