Lockwood voters agreed to fund a new high school with a whopping 63.59 percent (1,495 ballots) supporting the $49.9 million bond issue, according to unofficial election results.
An energetic neighborhood campaign involving parents and grandparents going door-to-door succeeded in securing funds to build the Lockwood High School some have wanted for decades.
The Tuesday vote sets changes in motion that will remove Lockwood School District from the Billings High School District. Lockwood will then pay tuition and transportation costs for its 400 high school students who will attend Skyview or Senior until the new school is built and operating. The Lockwood plan is to open the school in 2021 with freshmen and to expand to a four-year school year by year.
Before they could create their new high school district, Lockwood folks had to convince the Montana Legislature to change a law that put a moratorium on new high school districts. In 2017, the Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock enacted a narrow change that allows K-8 public school districts with at least 1,000 students to become K-12 districts with approval of the district’s voters.
The new law also applied to the East Helena K-8 district where voters also approved a high school bond issue on Tuesday. In East Helena, the $29.5 million bond issue won with 61.5 percent of the vote – 1,952 votes. As in Lockwood, East Helenans had been talking about building a high school for many years.
The Lockwood vote provides a measure of certainty as Billings school trustees plan for serving students. Billings projections show high school enrollment – now about 6,000 students — rising in coming years because of large middle school classes and West End elementary district growth. The Billings district has significantly expanded career and technical education and dual college-high school classes in the past few years. Trustees are working on proposals for upgrading facilities at Senior, Skyview, West, the Career Center and Daylis Stadium.
Now that Lockwood voters have spoken, Billings planners know that future enrollment will be reduced after 2020. As Lockwood ramps up to educate its high schoolers, Billings will adjust its staffing. Billings Superintendent Terry Bouck has said that can be accomplished largely through attrition and retirement. Of course, Lockwood will be hiring teachers at the same time.
Lockwood wasn’t the only Yellowstone County school district to pass a levy on Tuesday. Broadview voters approved a high school levy 159-77.
Operating levies went down Tuesday in Pioneer Elementary District and in Laurel where voters had been asked to approve elementary and high school levies.
Billings trustees decided against running levies this year, but have discussed the possibility of making a request to voters in 2019 to improve high school facilities throughout the city. As Billings and other school districts contemplate how best to present future levy proposals, they should take a look at how Lockwood and East Helena connected with their voters. Those were big asks, yet the voters resoundingly answered: Yes!
Congratulations to the Lockwood school proponents who are making their dream come true. Voters have agreed to put their money where their new school will be.