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Published January 31, 2011, 08:09 PM

Williston Schools Seek Aid for Student Influx

The oil boom has Williston's schools bursting with students, the district's superintendent and local lawmakers said Monday as they made a rare plea for state help in building more classroom space.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The oil boom has Williston's schools bursting with students, the district's superintendent and local lawmakers said Monday as they made a rare plea for state help in building more classroom space.

The North Dakota House Education Committee reviewed legislation that asks for $14 million in state money to help pay for a $70 million construction and renovation project. It does not mention Williston directly, but is worded to apply only to the Williston school district.

The initiative would expand Hagan Elementary School, renovate Williston High School and build a new school for grades five through eight.

Representatives worried about providing state aid directly for school construction noted that other school districts, including Stanley and Mandan, have similar growth problems.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston, said the school district could not predict the boom and hasn't received enough money from oil taxes to pay for the expansion it needs. Hatlestad is a retired Williston school administrator.

"The situation is rather unique because it hasn't multiplied over the years and slowly crept up," Hatlesad said. "It's hit us straight in the face overnight."

Williston Superintendent Viola LaFontaine said the schools have turned bathrooms, gyms and libraries into classrooms and don't have enough toilets for the number of temporary classrooms.

The new school would hold 1,500 more students and be run as two individual "houses," separating the younger two grades from the older two. Hagan Elementary would grow to hold 500 students.

Williston's enrollment in kindergarten through sixth grade has grown 30 percent in five years, and 187 new students enrolled last fall in all grades.

"We need state assistance in order to have sufficient classroom space for this rapidly growing student population," said Susan Brokaw, president of the Williston School Board. "We've experienced an unprecedented and unforeseen growth from the proximity to oil."

The committee did not act on the bill Monday. It is HB1463.

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