Three Elementary School Districts Hope to Build And Operate High Schools

Jan 20, 2015

Three growing Montana communities are asking lawmakers to give them ability to create their own high school, if local voters agree.

Currently, three elementary districts - Lockwood, East Helena, and Hellgate - are looking at this expansion. Students in these districts go to high schools in nearby Billings, Helena or Missoula.

Officials with the three elementary districts say they all have growing populations. They just want to ask their voters if they want to add a high school.

Supporters of Senate Bill 107 say this is an issue of local control.

The superintendent of Lockwood Public Schools, Tobin Novasio, puts it this way:

"We are on par of the same size as Laurel, Lewistown, Sidney, Whitefish. Can you imagine the outcry if we discussed consolidating those school districts with a neighbor? Just because we are close to Billings we don’t get that same right?"

Senate Bill 107 spells out how an existing elementary district could become a K-12 district through a public vote and it spells out how to ease the financial impact the loss of students would have on the affected high schools. But there’s concern allowing the drain of students will result in the elimination of programs. Jeff Cowee is president of the Helena Education Association. He says double AA schools provide advanced placement courses – for example - that help students.

"East Helena, because of their size, I don’t feel will be able to offer those same programs or the same opportunities the students have. So the end result of this if you chose to go with this is that both students in Helena and E Helena will lose educational opportunities which I think will be a detriment to their future."

The Senate Education Committee did not take immediate action on Senate Bill 107.