The Williston Public Schools are among oil-impacted school districts receiving matching grants to help purchase or lease portable classrooms to meet their growing student enrollments.
Supt. Viola LaFontaine said the $3 million matching grant the district received in March is being used to put up modular classrooms at McVay Elementary, a building the district had closed a number of years ago. The classrooms will be connected to the building and there will also be a gym, a cafeteria and office space.
LaFontaine said the Williston Public Schools have seen enormous growth in the last two years alone. She said the district had 300 new students this year who have stayed throughout the school year and another 200 that have come and gone throughout the year. During the 2010-2011 school year, there were 187 new students and about 150 of those students stayed on permanently. About 70 percent of the new students are at the elementary level, primarily because oil workers tend to have young families.
LaFontaine said she thinks some of the kids who were enrolled and then left the district will come back to stay permanently once more housing has been built.
"I'm thinking they'll come back because the dads have stayed," said LaFontaine. She said families came to join the fathers, thinking they could find affordable housing once they moved to Williston, but were forced to leave again once they couldn't find an affordable place to stay. Now more housing is being constructed in Williston and that should make it easier for families to find homes, said LaFontaine.
LaFontaine said she and other superintendents from oil-impacted districts plan to ask the state Legislature for more assistance in January.
Other schools that received matching grants include South Heart, which received $240,000; the New Williston School District No. 8, which received $1.35 million; the Tioga district, which received $300,000; the Powers Lake School District, which received $80,000; and the McKenzie County School District No. 1, which received $27,000.
The Energy Impact grants cover 80 percent of costs, with 20 percent required from eligible school districts. The maximum allowable cost for portable classrooms is $150,000. Grants can be used to help pay leases for portable classrooms for the 2012-2013 school year, or the first year of a lease-to-purchase agreement. Other allowable expenses include classroom equipment, infrastructure costs including land preparation, electricity, sewer, water and the costs of architectural and construction design.
The $5 million grants were officially approved by the state Board of University and School Lands.