Originally published in the 6/16/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News-By Evelyn Pyburn.
The proposition for a Lockwood High School will be a three-vote process.
The first of those votes will be held in November of this year, to approve the expansion of the Lockwood School District to a K-12 district. The Lockwood School Board approved a resolution on Tuesday, to request that the Yellowstone County Superintendent of Schools call for an election of voters within the district to determine if a majority support expanding the school to include high school grades.
Chad Hanson, chairman of the Lockwood Community Education Committee, was present to inform the board about community support for a new high school that was demonstrated at a public meeting on May 18, and to ask the board to pass a resolution calling for an election to expand the district.
About 80 people attended that public meeting, said Hanson, of which 58 responded to a survey on whether they wanted a high school in Lockwood. Of those responding, 100 percent said they supported the construction of a high school in Lockwood and almost 97 percent said that they preferred to expand the Lockwood district rather than “working with School District 2 to build a high school in Lockwood under their control.”
The Lockwood Board members previously declared that they wanted the community to take the lead in advancing a new high school. Chairman Tim Sather asked Hanson if they had the support that will be needed to inform the public about the issue, because they want to make sure the proposition passes, since if it fails it cannot be brought back for another five years. Hanson replied that to date, they have 28 volunteers willing to help campaign for the issue and they are ready to begin.
If the November vote succeeds, the school district has two years in which to pass a general obligation bond.
Should voters approve expanding the school district, the board may then request of voters, a levy to cover transitional costs, such as expenses to engage architects and engineers to develop preliminary designs, estimate costs and gather public input. That second election would probably be held in May 2018.
There was dismay expressed about having to wait so long, but Superintendent Tobin Novasio said that the school has a safety fund that allows for expenditures for future planning. They could draw from that fund to start the planning process sooner, he suggested.
It was pointed out that there were a number of things that could be pursued in the interim, such as issuing requests for proposals and selecting an architect.
The transitional cost levy is limited to two or three mills and would probably generate about $50,000 to $75,000, or a tax of about $2.50 to $4 on $100,000 of home value.
The general obligation bond, to finance the building of a new high school, would be the third vote, which would most likely be held in November 2019. If the general obligation bond cannot be passed within the two-year window allowed, the matter cannot be reconsidered for another five years.
If it passes, however, the Lockwood School District would officially become a K-12 district on July 1 after the election.
It is projected that design would take a year after that and construction would begin sometime in 2021, running into 2022. The doors of the new school – probably a three- story building on campus — would open in the fall of 2022, with probably the first freshman and sophomore classes. Each new freshman class would join each year after that.
Considerable discussion erupted following the board’s vote, as many suggestions were made about how to inform the public and about the many issues that will have to be ironed out, potential traffic problems, choices to be made about school location and hours.
Novasio commented that despite the opposition to the high school legislation from School District 2, conversations he hears are becoming more positive about it. In fact, that is frequently the primary topic of conversation, he said. As there comes to be more acceptance of the idea, “I hope they come to see it as we having done them a favor,” said Novasio, explaining that while Lockwood would be incrementally withdrawing 500 students from SD2, the impact will be negligible because the SD2 high school population grows at the rate of 100 students a year, not including Lockwood. Withdrawing 500 students will give SD2 more time and space to accommodate that growth before having to build.
Former school board member Sue Vinton, who as a state legislator helped pass the legislation that is enabling Lockwood to make a choice about having a high school, emphasized the importance of fully informing the voters.
“If the voters aren’t sure what they are voting on, the easy thing to do is to vote no,” she said. “Information needs to … Read full story in print edition of Yellowstone County News or by subscribing online here.