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Group studying possibility of building high school west of Billings

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Feb 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-02 10:26:45-05

BILLINGS - Parents in west Billings and south of Billings are looking into the possibility of building a new high school.

This would include students from the Blue Creek, Elysian, Canyon Creek, and Elder Grove districts.

This week, a survey was just completed to gauge the interest among parents.

Growth and development on the Billings far West End continues with new homes and new businesses nearly every week.

"We're seeing growth on the outside in our high school district," said Greg Upham, Billings School District 2 superintendent.

But with that growth comes growing pains

"We all know that School District 2 is overcrowded right now and that presents challenges," said Susie Layton, co-founder of Southwest Billings SMART Growth, the group trying to determine if a new high school is feasible.

Students west and south of the city limits currently attend West High School or Senior High School.

West is the largest with more than 2,200 students, followed by Senior, and Billings' other public high school, Skyview, is number three.

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"We're managing it through the balancing of our enrollments," Upham said.

Upham said School District 2 is not considering a new high school.

"We do not have enough students in School District 2 at this current time to justify building another high school," Upham said.

Instead, the district hopes to alleviate overcrowding through redistricting. And some say that may not be enough.

Layton says a new high school would also help School District 2.

"We feel like this would solve a problem of the overcrowding," Layton said.

Layton is a former School District 2 trustee who founded the nonprofit with Missy Jones, a former Elder Grove trustee.

They are not releasing all the numbers, but more than 500 families took a survey asking their opinion on a new high school.

Early results show 95% say there is a need for high school and support the idea, 86% say they would support a bond and 80% support consolidating the four existing school districts in the area.

That includes Blue Creek, Elysian Canyon Creek, and Elder Grove.

State law requires 1,000 students to form a high school district, which would take all four rural districts to happen.

"There isn't anything in place for us to just co-op and remain independent districts," Layton said. "According to the law right now, we do have to consolidate to make it possible to create a high school district."

Layton says the state law was passed in 2017, backed heavily by Lockwood and East Helena, which each subsequently built a high school.

While she was on the Billings school board, she became inspired by Lockwood.

"I just had in the back of my mind, you know, this is something that could affect the counties or the county schools and make it possible for us to have our own high school," Layton said.

"Moving them to some of the bigger schools, they don't get the same opportunities that we always have out here," said Kelsey Daer, a parent. "So it'd be nice to have that as well."

"It's a great idea especially as the community grows I think it would benefit everybody out here," said Randy Walter, a parent.

"I think it'd just be a good idea to have a high school here," said Ty Sherman, an Elder Grove student.

But the process won't be easy. All four independent school boards would need to support the plan. And so would voters and ultimately an expensive bond would have to be passed.

"It's not going to be something that will be overwhelming," Layton said. "It will be a really positive response to the information that we've gathered."