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Hocker stresses need for new high school

Dickinson needs a new high school. Shon Hocker, Dickinson Public Schools superintendent, raised the issue at a panel of area educators Tuesday at the yearly meeting of Stark Development Corp.'s members held at Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge. The schoo...

Shon Hocker, Dickinson Public Schools superintendent, right, spoke about the district's need for a new high school and the upcoming voter referendum at an area education panel held Tuesday. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)
Shon Hocker, Dickinson Public Schools superintendent, right, spoke about the district's need for a new high school and the upcoming voter referendum at an area education panel held Tuesday. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Dickinson needs a new high school.

Shon Hocker, Dickinson Public Schools superintendent, raised the issue at a panel of area educators Tuesday at the yearly meeting of Stark Development Corp.'s members held at Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge.

The school district is bringing a referendum to voters in May asking for a $110 million bond to construct a new high school to deal with overcrowding.

The district has six elementary schools, a middle school and high school, as well as an early childhood center and alternative learning school.

"Overall, we're just short of 4,000 students that we work with every day," Hocker said.

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Population growth is an "absolute challenge" for the district.

"We graduated approximately 190 seniors last year," Hocker said. "This year, we've got over 360 kindergartners coming in. You can see that's just a big difference."

The district's new middle school, in its second year, hosts about 900 students.

"For easy math, that's about 300 per grade level for the three grades that are there," Hocker said. "As those numbers continue to move up into the high school, four high school grades of approximately 300 each, puts it at 1,200 in a school designed for 1,000."

He added, "We're already there with some capacity challenges."

Hocker said that though he understands money is a sensitive subject, the cost will be greater if voters aren't supportive.

"If something doesn't happen in that vote, it can cost us millions in the long run," he said. "Yes, we could kick this can down the road a little longer if that's the choice of patrons, but by doing so it could cost us a little more than $50 million."

There are $15 to $20 million in maintenance costs for the current high school building to make it last several more years, Hocker said.

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Overcrowding will also continue to be an issue.

"We'd be bringing in a bunch of pods and portable units," he said. "There's just a lot of costs associated with that."

There are also escalation costs of 6 percent per year.

"If you're looking at $100 million high school, that's $6 million per year," Hocker said. "For the next five years, that's $30 million more."

He added, "I don't think we can waste that money by kicking the can down the road on this vote."

A new building would be designed to meet potential future growth.

"We'd be at 1,200 in the next couple of years before that school would even be open, just with the current numbers we have," Hocker said, "not counting any additional 5 to 10 percent growth per year."

The May referendum only addresses the high school's needs.

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The district also faces challenges at the elementary level.

"We have historically had somewhere around 80 percent of all births in Dickinson show up five years later in kindergarten," Hocker said. "The births in Dickinson over the last couple of years have been a little over 700."

The district currently has 360 children in kindergarten. Those figures would mean 560 kids in the future.

"Even in the next five years, we just have constant growth, some constant challenges," Hocker said.

The referendum will be brought to voters on May 7.

"I encourage you all to learn everything you can over the next few months," Hocker said, "and come out and vote."

Related Topics: DICKINSON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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