by Judy Killen
LOCKWOOD – A Senate bill that could allow Lockwood and two other Montana school districts to consider building high schools stalled Wednesday in the House Education Committee.
The committee voted 8-7 to table Senate Bill 107. The bill will not be considered by the full House of Representatives unless committee members vote to send it to the floor.
A motion by Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, R-Superior, to “blast” the bill to the House floor later Wednesday failed on a 54-46 vote.
Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, who sponsored the bill, said Wednesday that among the challenges of passing Senate Bill 107, it “faced a combination of large school districts that do not want to give up enrollment that they have captured from neighboring communities” and “strong opposition from Montana’s largest union and a few key legislators that did not clearly understand the effect of the bill.”
The bill would allow elementary school districts with enrollment of at least 1,000 students to consider expanding into high school districts and possibly building high schools.
“This vote says ‘no’ to local control and it says ‘no’ to consideration of better choices for the students in our community,” Brown said.
Lockwood students currently attend Billings high schools.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Brown said, “because it means that despite changing population and low levels of student engagement and unacceptable graduation success rates, there will be no process for local communities to begin to discuss possibly increasing their own local tax investment to change things.”
Lockwood, East Helena and Missoula Hellgate would qualify under the provisions of the current bill.
“It’s a complex bill,” said Brown. “It’s really complicated.”
But it’s too soon to give up on SB 107, Brown said, noting the House Education committee is scheduled to meet again Friday and supporters are going to keep trying.
“We will not give up,” he said. “The Lockwood community knows the current situation is not working for their students. They need better choices.”
Rhetorically, Brown asked, “Will that be their own high school? Will that be a charter school? All we know or sure is that in communities like Lockwood the population is growing and the situation is not getting better.”
Representatives voting yes, who were all Republicans, included Committee Chairwoman Sarah Lazsloffy, Debra Lamm, Greg Hertz, Kathy Meyers, G. Bruce Monforton, Jean Salomon and Schwaderer. Meyers and Monforton voted by proxy, which meant they were absent from the meeting but entrusted a delegate with their votes.
Voting no were Democrats Edie McClafferty, Bryce Bennett , Moffie Funk, Kathy Kelker, Jean Price and Susan Webber and Republicans Edward Greef and Jeff Essmann of Billings. Bennett and Webber voted by proxy.
It’s possible that representatives could vote to “blast” it to the floor of the House, Brown said, but it would take 60 votes out of the 100 members of the House.
“That’s a pretty high bar,” he said. “It’s not impossible but it’s a pretty high bar.”