As population grows, a Sheridan County school district must turn away more students

As the population of Sheridan County grows, officials with Sheridan County School District #1 had to turn more students out of the district as their own student numbers grew. The two main school facilities in the district are Big Horn Schools and Tongue River Schools in Dayton and Ranchester.

SCSD #1 Superintendent Pete Kilbride said a major reason for this is the population increase occurring in the Big Horn, Powder Horn and Tongue River Valley areas of Sheridan County.

The district’s enrollment totals approximately 1,150 students, including approximately 150 Cowboy State Virtual Academy students from across the state. In the 1990s the population was fairly stable in the mid-900s, but Kilbride said that over the past four to five years it has really increased.

“We hadn’t hit 1,000 brick and mortar kids until my first year as superintendent four and a half years ago,” Kilbride said.

Most of the students SCSD #1 has had to turn away reside within the boundaries of Sheridan County School District #2, which serves the city of Sheridan.

SCSD#1 is also home to a population of Apostolic Lutherans, a religious group whose members often have as many as ten children per family. Many of the men work in subcontracting or trades, which has led them to attend schools in Tongue River as demand for their housing construction services increases there.

There are several reasons why students may attend a school in a school district other than their own. These include smaller class sizes, additional athletic or extracurricular activity options that their district may not have, conflicts within their home district, or parents, family, or friends attending a school in another district. When Kilbride arrived in 2006, about half of Big Horn Elementary School’s students came from outside the district. Big Horn High School has more capacity than elementary. About 25 students have been turned away this school year, about double what has happened in the past, he said.

“Depending on which side of the highway you live, you’re in district one or district two, and so you have kids who played together growing up and want to stay together,” he said. “Sometimes they will make that choice. A lot of our off-district kids on the Big Horn side, our kids have parents who work for us. Many of our teachers end up living in Sheridan and so they are actually [in] Sheridan two where they pay their taxes, but they want their children to come to where they work.

The way the school district system is currently set up is that each district receives funding for the number of students they have in their respective district as well as their school facilities.

“It was never about the money, we’re not saying, ‘Hey, let’s get all the kids we can [to] Come in.’ We want to make sure we can serve them well,” Kilbride added. “Sometimes it’s saying no, because we don’t feel like we have the right services for them and we’ll just say it’s not going to work, it’s not going to be a good fit.”

So far, there is no need to expand or build new school facilities. However, things could get a bit cramped if the growth trend continues, especially for Tongue River schools, which currently have a large population of middle school students.

“If necessary, we could perhaps do a kindergarten, first year at the Learning Center [community center], then second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, maybe elementary and make seventh grade eighth grade middle school, or you can go the other way and go eighth grade to the Learning Center and make some a five, six, seven college,” he said. “So that’s the building I’m most concerned about, but luckily we still have another facility that could handle some of that.”

Even though the population continues to grow, Kilbride appreciates the relationship between the two districts, both of which are highly ranked schools in the state.

“I’m grateful that we have two great neighboring districts that have different things to offer, and we allow that fluidity to happen,” he said.