LOCKWOOD – As construction moves along on the new Lockwood High School, one piece of the agenda remains stuck in the mud.
Will a freshman class of students be allowed to start at the school early, even though the completion date isn’t until 2020?
It’s a question the school board and Lockwood Schools Superintendent Tobin Novasio are trying to solve.
Novasio said Friday that the school board is set to decide at its Feb. 11 school board meeting, but he says there has been much discussion already.
“This fall, as we enrolled students, we had a lot of parents of the freshmen say this is great, we wish they could start here next year,” said Novasio.
Voters approved a $49.9 million dollar high school for Lockwood in May to open for the 2020-2021 school year, but the idea of having the freshmen come to school a year earlier came after the bond passed.
The early class would be housed in an auxiliary building built as a part of the new high school but early enough to accommodate a freshman class.
“So it would be a full high school that would serve just one grade level, and we would have all the proper accreditation and space,” said Novasio.
However, the idea hit a snag when Lockwood went to Billings School District 2 asking for an inter-local attendance agreement to allow freshmen to stay in Billings schools if they desired.
It’s something Novasio said Helena school officials are doing with the addition of a voter-approved high school in East Helena.
However, Billings Superintendent Greg Upham says School District 2 has a policy and it’s sticking to it.
The policy was adopted years ago, where each out-of-district student would have to be approved individually if they wanted to attend school in the Billings district.
Upham said there are criteria to determine the student’s attendance, grades, and academic achievements so the district can provide additional resources to accommodate the student.
“We just want to maintain the integrity of the policy,” said Upham.
Consequently, the Lockwood school board will have to decide if the district will still pay tuition for kids who opt to go to a Billings high school or have freshmen and sophomores begin together when the high school is finished.
Upham told Q2 News Friday that if Lockwood offers its freshman class to start in the fall of 2019, then tuition costs for the student would essentially fall on the family whose child jumps districts. If they don’t offer an early freshman class, then the cost falls on Lockwood schools.
Tuition for a Lockwood student to attend School District 2 is $1,400.
Navasio said right now, he’s trying to gauge what the public wants and he admits there are some mixed reviews out there on the issue.
“We don’t want to feel like we are forcing any decisions onto anybody,” he said.
He says at their Jan 8 school board meeting he welcomes discussion and input from parents to help guide the process and decision.
“We are under no obligation to do either it’s just to allow parents to make decisions that they feel are best for their kids,” said Novasio.