Parents of Bozeman elementary students won’t find out until one week before school starts Aug. 29 which schools their kids will be assigned to this year.
While many Montana school districts are struggling with declining enrollments,
the Bozeman School District is facing an unusually large signup of more than 600 new students. It has postponed sending out school assignment notices to parents from this Friday until Aug. 22.
That will give school secretaries and principals an extra 10 days to phone families and find out which registered students are actually going to attend this fall and how many have moved without telling the schools.
It will also give the district more time to figure out whether two more teachers have to be hired to teach kindergarten or first grade. The district has already had to increase hiring from the six new teachers budgeted this year to eight, Superintendent Kirk Miller said Tuesday.
getting a more precise headcount, Miller said, “We’re being cautious so we don’t have to double-move kids.”
He acknowledged the delay is frustrating for families.
“This is one of the most important things for parents,” Miller said. “We’re working as quickly as we can. We appreciate the patience of folks … We want to continue to have their trust.”
School officials are trying to balance parents’ wishes, tight budgets, state class-size standards and the district’s neighborhood school policy.
School Board Chair Denise Hayman and Vice Chair Bruce Grubbs said they hadn’t heard from any parents about the delay. Drew Seessel, parent council president at Hawthorne School, said he hadn’t heard any comments, but it’s likely parents will be concerned.
One question facing administrators is whether to hire another kindergarten teacher and move kids from their neighborhood schools to that new class or put more kids in existing kindergarten classes and hire overflow aides.
Meanwhile, parents keep coming in to sign up new students. Families seem to move more than in the past, perhaps because of the economy, Miller said.
Three years ago, the Bozeman schools ended its old enrollment system, which gave parents the choice to sign up for any elementary school on a first-come basis. That led to parents camping out overnight to sign up for kindergarten at certain schools.
The School Board instead created geographic attendance boundaries for each school and gave first priority to kids who live within the boundaries.
At the moment, however, there isn’t room for about 113 students — most of them kindergartners and first-graders — in their neighborhood schools.
Another 40 first-, second- and third-graders who attended a school other than their neighborhood school last year will be bumped this year to make room for kids who live inside the attendance boundaries. Only fourth- and fifth-graders, who were in place when the switch to neighborhood schools occurred, are still grandfathered in.
Bozeman’s elementary enrollment has grown by nearly 10 percent or 230 students in the last three years. That’s why the new Hyalite Elementary School was built in 2009.
So far, Bozeman has 2,740 elementary kids signed up. There are 27 more kindergartners than anticipated, more than enough to fill a 20-student kindergarten class. And there are 18 fewer kids in both third and fourth grades than expected. The district may create more combined-age classes, such as mixing kindergarteners and first-graders, as one solution.
Miller urged parents to keep a positive outlook and help their children maintain a “healthy excitement” about the first day of school, even if they’re not sure which school they’ll be in.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.