Redistricting plan sends all Lockwood students to Skyview

by Evelyn Pyburn-originally published in the weekly Yellowstone County News print edition. Get all the other Lockwood stories and info in the print edition

BILLINGS — The high school redistricting plan that was left standing after months of study and reshaping, which will be recommended to the Board of Trustees for School District 2, does not retain choice for Lockwood and will send most Lockwood students to Skyview. The plan is called B-1.

After public comment and a couple of re-do’s of past motions, the committee of community members that was charged with making a recommendation on how to set new boundaries for Billings’ three high schools, came to a relatively quick conclusion Tuesday evening at the Lincoln Center, with what appeared to be a unanimous choice. So much so, that almost half the committee didn’t want to propose an alternative for the SD2 board. They eventually did, however, and the alternative was Plan A, even though most seemed to consider it a distant second – and it, too, denies choice to Lockwood.

Matt Cropper, whose Ohio-based consulting firm was hired by SD2 to oversee the redistricting process, explained that the committee’s recommendation will be presented to SD2 board members at their next meeting on March 21. Cropper said he will give them a presentation regarding the B1 Plan and provide the board with all the materials the committee used in coming to its decision. It was reiterated several times that SD2 board members are under no obligation to accept the committee’s recommendation. They could choose Plan A, or any of the other discarded plans, or devise one of their own.

Public comment was taken before the committee considered its choice, and much of that comment came from Lockwood residents imploring that Lockwood students continue to be allowed to choose between Senior and Skyview, as they have in the past. Many of the speakers, however, were focused on what they saw as a need for diversity in the high schools, as measured by the number of low-income students who qualify for the federally-funded free and reduced-price lunch program.

Sending most Lockwood students to Skyview, where the percentage of those qualifying for free lunches has been low, achieves that balance.

Ronnel Martin of Lockwood conceded that Skyview lacked diversity, but she said “it is not up to Lockwood to make that happen.” She said her family is like many families, in that one of the considerations about where to live is which high school their kids will attend.

Her grandson, Blake Martin, a high school freshman attending Senior, said that he chose Senior because that is where his friends are, and his friends are as important to him as family.

“Splitting Lockwood in two,” he said, “is like someone coming into your family and splitting it.”

Jeana Lervick, SD2 Human Resources Director, who chaired the committee, addressed a concern raised earlier regarding two “straw polls.” There was a complaint that the process did not comply with open meeting laws. Lervick said the district’s attorney, Jeff Weldon, said that the committee had complied with all open meeting laws. And, even though they didn’t have to, Lervick asked the committee to reconsider two previous actions in eliminating other plans, to remove all question about compliance.

During that process, Plan D, which would have retained choice for Lockwood, was put back on the table. Jennifer Wagner, the lone committee member from Lockwood, said that Plan D addresses diversity and disrupts the least number of middle school students.

Another committee member, who said that while the process had changed his mind about the issue of Lockwood being able to retain choice, opposed Plan D because it placed south side students in a position of not being able to walk to school. The plan gave “the poorest students the shortest straw,” he said.

Plan D again went down to defeat, as did Plan C, by a wide margin.

Plan B1 eliminates pockets in the west end in which students previously went to Senior. A revision from the last committee meeting eliminated a split of Ben Steele Middle School students, and will send 60 students previously headed to Senior High to West High. South side and north side students are sent to Senior, as are Blue Creek and Morin school districts.

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