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School district looks at partnering with Habitat for Humanity

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Afterschool tutoring available again for students

By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – At the Big Sky School District board meeting Nov. 12, the board agreed to invest funds to continue exploring a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build employee housing on campus, and to reinstate a tutoring program to benefit students and teachers.

The board agreed to invest $2,000 for Habitat for Humanity to draft a memorandum of understanding outlining specific project details, such as budget and appearance of the structures, should they decide to partner with the organization. After the board discusses the details in this future proposal, they would decide whether to bring the project before the community to request funding.

Approximately a month ago, district Superintendent Dustin Shipman met with Laura Seyfang, the newly appointed program director of the HRDC’s Big Sky Community Housing Trust, and with Habitat for Humanity of Gallatin Valley Executive Director J. David Magistrelli, to discuss options for a partnership. According to Seyfang, who has previously worked with Habitat for Humanity, she approached Shipman with the idea when she heard the school had its own land, which is a limiting factor for building affordable housing in Big Sky.

Magistrelli, outlined at the Nov. 12 meeting the organization’s approach to building, history and possibilities of a joint venture. He said they are proposing to build housing for the district, utilizing their volunteer workforce and discounted rates with contractors, which would substantially lower the project’s cost for the school.

Since Habitat for Humanity’s arrival in Gallatin County in 1991, it has built 75 homes throughout southwest Montana, but this is the first time they’ve considered a joint venture with a school in the state, according to Magistrelli. Gallatin Valley Habitat for Humanity is having similar conversations with the Bozeman School District to provide employee housing.

According to Shipman, the school has the ability to build employee housing on campus per the HOA guidelines, and he’s had indications from an area real estate lawyer that the permitting process would go smoothly because the district is exempt from county zoning regulations as a government entity.

“Our mission is to put people in housing that, one, they can afford, and two, is energy efficient and sustainable,” Magistrelli said. The Montana branch of Habitat for Humanity sets many of the energy efficiency standards for the rest of the country, using prefabricated structural insulated panels for walls and orienting homes so that the sunlight provides a substantial portion of the heat in the winter.

Unlike their other developments, Habitat for Humanity would not own the resulting homes.

“It’s still very preliminary to understand what we’re going to take to the community, but we need this [memorandum] to be able to show the actual dollars and cents that we’ll be asking,” school board Chair Loren Bough said. “We’re looking at every possible avenue. … So, we may come up with other ideas, but this is the first we think is really encouraging because Habitat for Humanity has such a great track record.”

Afterschool tutoring

Using a $20,000 anonymous private donation, the district will begin offering afterschool tutoring from 4-5 p.m. daily, beginning after Thanksgiving. This program will fill the void left by a previous program that allowed teachers to earn a Big Sky Resort season pass by tutoring.

For the district, the program checks two boxes: providing students extra academic help and allowing teachers an additional opportunity for income.

The walk-in program will be open to all students, only requiring them to sign in so that teachers can track attendance.

“We were hoping that enough kids would come that it would warrant two teachers,” second-grade teacher Brittany Shirley said. “I think that’s an appealing work environment for the teachers and could create some synergy among the teachers and students all working together.”

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