Hannah Stiff, Staff Writer | Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 9:00 am
This fall, the Monforton School hosted a grand re-opening ceremony. School faculty gave parents and kids tours of the school’s brand new addition. The much-needed construction added six classrooms, breakaway pod-type rooms and administrative offices to the Four Corners school.
Yet as the school and community celebrated the shiny new rooms, they faced a problem. The addition was already overflowing.
With a 40-student enrollment jump this year, new Monforton Superintendent Darren Strauch is facing space issues.
“We jumped from about 250 at the end of last year to opening the school this year with 295 kids,” Strauch said. “Watching that number go up all summer, I felt a little bit of terror. Where are we going to put all these kids?”
When the school opened the newly renovated wing for business this fall, no one thought building again would be an urgent need. Strauch said the need is immediate though. He is appealing to the state for assistance to fund an extra teacher position added this year to accommodate the influx of students.
Next fall, the school will ask voters for another nearly $3 million bond measure to pay for a newer addition much like the most recent add-on. This future construction will hopefully add more lunchroom space, too.
“The food service is ridiculously undersized for the amount of students we have,” Strauch said. “They’re trying to feed 300 kids in a postage stamp sized lunchroom.”
Since 2000, Monforton has steadily grown at about 9 percent a year. The booming North Star and Middle Creek subdivisions flanking Four Corners have added students rapidly as the housing economy starts to recover, Strauch said.
Since there will be lag time from when the school asks for a bond and when another addition can be built, Strauch says the school will have to make some tough decisions about where to put kids.
“The long and short of it is next year we go out for a bond issue. If the voters are supportive of it, we can start building,” he said. “But that’s a year and a half away. We won’t see fruition until 2015. We have immediate needs.”
The state’s assistance, given for unanticipated enrollment surges will amount to about $50,000 this year, Strauch said. That will help for now. As for space, the school is considering vast options.
“We’re looking at modular classrooms,” Strauch said. “We know full-well that’s not best for students, so we’re trying to get creative in a hurry.”
For Strauch, dealing with such rapid growth is something he hasn’t faced in his 15 years as an educator. Strauch moved to Bozeman in July to take the superintendent job. Before Monforton, Strauch worked his way up the ranks in Harrison, a class C school with about 90 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Moving to a school with almost 300 kids from kindergarten to 8th grade is a change.
“I’ve never had to deal with this before,” Strauch said. “There are definitely some stressors tied to it. But the bottom line is that we all want what’s best for kids.”
Strauch and other school officials have met a handful of times with Comma Q architects to sketch out plans for another addition. The school board and educators hope to add another six classrooms and a bigger lunchroom, but no one knows if the school can come up with the money to foot such an expansion.
“The big question is do we plan for the future or just try to keep up with what’s going on,” Strauch said.
Darren Strauch, Superintendent