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School board approves new attendance areas

The Dickinson Public School Board voted unanimously at a special meeting on Tuesday to approve a redrawing of elementary attendance areas to help accommodate an expected influx of new students over the next several years.

A planning firm offered several options to the district in regards to how they might deal with an expected surge in student populations, based upon the rate of live births in the area. These options considered the re-opening of Berg Elementary in different ways, and of the five options presented, the board ultimately chose an option called "3A."

"Option 3A" is distinct from "Option 3" in very slight ways—two potential maps for redistricting had been presented, with 3A, the alternative map, winning out over option 3. These maps were proposed in the fall of last year, School Board President Brent Seaks said, and workshopped at a public meeting in January, and public input had been taken into account alongside the administrative input when formulating them.

"The administration recommends the board move forward with option 3A, because it provides some certainty in the school district," Superintendent Doug Sullivan said in a presentation he made to the school board. "It provides the school district some ability to move forward with staffing and it provides us the ability to move forward with curriculum and it eliminates the uncertainty that currently exists in the community and school district."

Sullivan gave his presentation following discussion with a planner from RSP & Associations, Rob Schwarz, regarding available pathways for expanding the capacity of the district's elementary schools. The recommendation Sullivan put forward was decided upon with input from the district's elementary school administrators, who lent their comments during the special meeting.

Other pathways under consideration were to take no action, waiting instead for the following year and more clarity regarding the actual rate of population increase expected for the district, or to utilize a phased system that would not immediately address capacity needs, but would mean few students would have to change schools.

Now, with the district borders being changed, some students may have to switch schools, a consequence that the board said would irk some parents. However, board member David Wilkie said that the discomfort would likely be temporary.

"Creating hard boundaries like this is going to be like ripping off a band-aid, it's going to hurt for a little bit, but by next year we probably won't even remember we had this conversation," he said.

It was school board member Tanya Rude who motioned to accept the 3A guidelines for redistricting the elementary schools, seconded eventually by Wilkie. There had been prior to some brief discussion about the possibilities of holding off on a decision until a similar decision had been clarified regarding the high schools, which will also be facing an abundance of incoming students. However, delaying the decision was opposed by the administrators present at the meeting, and the decision eventually went to take action.

"It's been kind of understood that something needed to be done," Seaks said after the vote. "The urgency was there, the decision needed to be made for us to move forward. We're not done with decisions, this helps us in the short-term but there are still big long-term decisions that need to be made with the growth in our district, both with the high school and the elementary school."

A big reason why there needed to be redistricting is due to the reopening of Berg Elementary, whose attendance area will now encompass a section of the south side of the city, crossing Villard and encompassing the central block of residential streets up to Memorial Park and Ninth Street East, which is the northern border of the new district. Berg's attendance area will cover W. Broadway Street down to Eagles Park and a southern portion of State Avenue. Pride Park and the Southview Avenue Area will remain in the Heart River district.

"This does in fact put Berg back in business as an elementary school," Seaks said of the building which housed grades K-6 last school year. "This is a bigger move, re-opening the school and doing some redistricting. There will certainly be some folks that will be affected that would rather have their kids stay where they are at ... the good news is we believe all of the schools are great schools. It'll take a little getting used to but once the children and parents are at that new school we think a lot of their anxiety ahead of time will be assuaged ahead of time."

RSP & Associates had recommended delaying approval of the new attendance areas. They also said that the board should consider the possibility that a new elementary school may need to be built or additions be added to Heart River.