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4 Billings school districts study building high school

School survey.jpg
Posted at 11:24 PM, Feb 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-16 13:00:56-05

BILLINGS - Montana ranked in the top 10 in the nation for growth in 2022 adding 17,000 residents just last year.

With that in mind - a newly formed parent group is pitching the idea of a brand new high school - and it's gaining a lot of interest.

Board members and superintendents from four school districts met at Elysian school on Wednesday.

Survey results show good support, and they talked about the challenges and what it's going to take to move forward with the idea.

Many parents like the small elementary and middle schools and want their children to have that closeness with their classmates to continue in high school.

"We like being the Ellder Grove Outlaws," said Michael Laird, a parent of Elder Grove students. "We love that community. We kind of have that identity for my wife and I that would be something we would be willing to give up and to work towards having that high school."

"The smaller feel, the same that our kids are getting from our elementary school, we're hoping to take onto that high school," said Leslie Friedel, Blue Creek School board chair. "The more personal small town feel, and smaller classroom sizes."

The proposed plan would give students from Elysian, Blue Creek, Canyon Creek and Elder Grove the chance to attend high school outside of School District 2.

They currently either go to West or Senior.

Susie Layton and Missy Jones are the co-founders of Southwest Billings SMART Growth, which conducted a survey.

Around 600 people from the four districts responded:

  • 93.6 % see the need for a new high school.
  • 78.1% support consolidating the four school districts
  • 88.8% support creating a high school district
  • 85.7% would support a bond issue
  • 90.4 % support their school board moving forward

"There seem to be a unanimous support for what we're working towards," said Jones. "It seems to be that the community from each district they all kind of have a similar viewpoint."

State law would require the four districts to consolidate to have enough students, 1,000 for a new high school.

While the survey shows support for combining the four districts into one, it still may be a challenge.

"The big part will be to educate people and help them to understand why we want to consolidate," said Layton. "It's not because we're trying to take over schools or anything like that. It's because it's required by law."

One of the board members said they want to operate in a way that is most cost-effective for the taxpayer, whether it's consolidating or staying separate.

Now they'll take the high school idea to their school boards to find out if they want to go through the process that includes elections, a bond issue, and mill levies

"If you were to say hey, let's just build a high school out here, people would say great, let's do it," said Luke Shelton, Elysian superintendent. "But there's a lot of steps that need to be done first."

"It's important really as a community that we think about the future and we plan for the future," said Laird.