Bozeman’s public schools have set a new enrollment record of more than 6,500 students, just as planning for a second high school is about to begin.

Superintendent Rob Watson told School Board trustees Monday night that Bozeman’s enrollment appears to have exceeded 6,500 students for the first time. That’s up by more than 200 students from last fall’s 6,294.

This fall’s total includes a new record of approximately 2,000 students at Bozeman High, 1,470 sixth- to eighth-graders in the two middle schools, and 3,045 elementary school children.

Because the two middle schools are considered full, the School Board is asking voters in the Nov. 3 election to approve a $16 million bond debt to expand Sacajawea Middle School.

Also on the ballot is $5.5 million for Hawthorne Elementary, to replace 30-year-old portable classrooms with a permanent building addition and to make several safety and handicapped-access improvements.

Thanks to growing numbers of students, the Bozeman district is ready to start planning to build a second high school. This month it’s launching a community planning effort to decide what kind of second high school to build in the next four or five years, when Bozeman High is expected to reach an enrollment of 2,400.

The district is negotiating with two architectural firms, A&E of Bozeman and Billings and Integrus of Spokane and Seattle, to serve as planning consultants for the next seven months.

Dusty Eaton, a principal with A&E, said the advisory committee will have 25 to 28 members and hold a kickoff meeting by the end of October. It will include teachers, parents, principals, students, school staff and community representatives.

“It’s critically important to engage a wide range of stakeholders,” Eaton said.

Watson said the committee is expected to “consider all the options,” get the community actively engaged and bring a recommendation to the School Board next April.

School Board Chair Wendy Tage said she feels encouraged that Bozeman residents will have lots of opportunities to get involved – whether by giving feedback on the school district website or attending meetings. She said she’d love it if meetings were “standing room only.”

“We want to keep people up to date,” Tage said. “The worst thing would be if we come up with a plan and people are up in arms because they don’t know about it.”

The committee will meet probably every other week for the next seven months, said Todd Swinehart, school facilities director.

Brian Carter, education facilities planner with Integrus, asked School Board trustees what they want to see in the second high school.

Douglas Fischer said what’s important to him is offering an “outstanding education to every student.” Fischer said what terrifies him is the possibility of ending up with two schools, where one is seen as better, or one is seen as the “rich kids” school and the other the “poor kids” school.

Trustee Bruce Grubbs said he wants students to have maximum opportunities to participate in athletics and to keep educational quality.

Trustee Heide Arneson said she wants to keep career programs in culinary arts, engineering and bioscience, and also wants to create ways for students to feel they belong to smaller communities, and aren’t lost among thousands of students.

The consultants planned to meet today with an executive committee, made up of the superintendent, his two deputies, Swinehart and two trustees. Members of the advisory committee haven’t yet been chosen, Swinehart said.

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