High school proposal draws early support from some locals

Originally published in 5/26/17 print edition of the Yellowstone County News.

LOCKWOOD — A crowd of 50-plus people sat in the Eileen Johnson Middle School Commons last Thursday evening to find out what steps are next in a process to get a high school in Lockwood.

The passage of Senate Bill 139 was just the first step. The new law gives the community an opportunity to make a choice. It is now time to see what that choice will be, said Chad Hanson, who heads the Education Committee of the Lockwood Steering Committee.

A majority of those present seemed to be young parents in the company of a number of small children. The third and fourth graders among those children would most likely be the first students to attend a Lockwood High School, should the voters support it, said Hanson. A brief overview was given of the legislation that allows elementary districts with 1,000 or more high school students to create a new high school district. The audience pelted Hanson, Lockwood School Superintendent Tobin Novasio and a few school board members in attendance with questions for an hour and a half. Comments tended to reveal strong support for a Lockwood High School.

A scenario was put forth that indicated it would take at least five years to have a high school built in Lockwood. The audience response seemed to be that they hope it can be done sooner than that.

The Lockwood School Board, while leading the charge to get the legislation passed, because they believed the community should have a right to choose, will not now move forward “unless we ask them to,” said Hanson. Hanson said that they would present the results of this informational meeting to the Lockwood School Board at their next meeting, June 13. That could be the first opportunity to begin to persuade the board to ask for a “transitional levy” vote – probably next spring – although there were those who wondered if the vote could happen this fall.

The legislation allows the board of trustees to request a 2-3 mill transitional levy which would help fund the preliminary feasibility study, research, and preliminary engineering regarding all questions and issues pertaining to a proposed high school. Such a levy would raise up to $70,000.

How the vote comes down on that levy will probably give an indication of the district’s level of interest in a high school.

If voters approved the transitional levy, the Lockwood School Board would have two years in which to put a bond levy request to build the school before the voters. The stickler – the point that makes him nervous, said Novasio – is that should the levy fail, or should the school board fail to present the bond levy request – the issue could not be brought to the voters again for another five years.

Because of the potential time lag that would present, it is imperative to make sure the proposal succeeds, said several speakers.

“We are talking to the choir,” said Hanson, pointing out that those opposed to the idea were probably not present. And, the success of such a proposal will take a lot of effort to gain broad community support.

“It will have to come from you,” the Lockwood residents were told. “Research shows that your neighbors are much more inclined to believe you…” than school administrators or other officials.

If the bond levy is successful, on the following July 1, the Lockwood High School District would be created. It would take a year to design the school. (Couldn’t it be done in six months? one anxious parent asked.) And, 18 months to construct. The high school would open its doors the fall of 2022.

The very first question posed was “How much?”

Novasio said that the cost of operating a high school in Lockwood rather than paying for the school operations in School District 2 would essentially be “a wash.” The cost of building a high school would range between... Read 2nd half of story in the print edition or subscribe online at the Yellowstone County News here for $39/year.

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