Posted: Sep 19, 2012 7:36 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Updated: Sep 19, 2012 7:36 AM
The impacts of the oil and gas boom are making their way into the classrooms in Sidney in eastern Montana.
The public schools in this town used to be filled with local children and now they are seeing a massive influx of kids from out of state.
Superintendent Daniel Farr is trying to figure out how to deal with this booming growth.
He has 130 new students in his district this year, and he estimates somewhere between 60 and 90 of those kids have parents working in the oil fields. 90 of them have moved to Sidney from out of state.
"When you look at the impacts, it's that constant ebb and flow of students into and out of your system," Farr says. "That constantly changes classroom dynamics for a teacher. It puts different stresses on your special services for students. It means adding staff."
And hiring staff is a problem itself, Farr says the oil boom has created a housing crisis. He says there aren't enough homes for all the oil workers, let alone teachers, custodians, & cafeteria workers; and the homes that are available are expensive.
Farr says more than 50 of the new students are considered homeless, which means they are most likely living in "man camps," trailers, RVs and tents. He says it's not that oil workers can't afford housing, it's that there isn't any.
However, for his staff it's a different story.
"Everybody is competing for the same pool of candidates, so you see salary inflation happening within your own community," Farr says. "Schools and other businesses in town just can't compete with large scale oil and gas businesses that are here."
With all these new students Farr is trying to figure out where to put them.
The District is undertaking a renovation project in a very old part of the school, and Farr says it needs a lot of work. He says there is asbestos in the walls and the bathrooms are not ADA compliant.
"We are trying to figure out how to pay for this. Our initial price quote to redo these six classrooms and two bathrooms was $2.3 million," Farr says. "Our construction and remodeling costs are also inflated up here."
Superintendent Farr says the District is looking at adding 1,050 new students in the next one to three years.
"We have to start reoccupying space and remodeling it for 21st century education," Farr says.
He believes most people think because there are oil rigs everywhere the school district has tons of money. In actuality, school districts see about 20 percent of the oil and gas tax and even then, Farr says, there is a delay in getting the funding.
He says while the problems may seem monumental, he believes the Legislature can fix them this next session.