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Billings School District 2 considers charter high school to replace elementary school

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Posted at 12:56 AM, Jan 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 11:36:43-05

Students around Billings have now begun their second semester of classes.

But the return to school at Washington Elementary School is clouded with questions about an uncertain future.

Billings School District 2 is aiming to make major changes that could result in students changing schools.

A letter went out this week explaining the possible plan.

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The proposal is to turn the school into the Washington Innovative Center to give students a chance to earn their associate's degrees at the same time as their high school diplomas.

But that means Washington students will have to go to a new school next year.

Washington would become a charter school and establish an Early College High School and an Opportunity School.

"Early College High Schools give kids another pathway for college and for (their) career," said Dr. Erwin Garcia, the district's superintendent.

The Opportunity School would offer training in areas such as computer repair, programming, cyber security, coding, robotics and artificial intellegence.

Garcia said the Washington Innovation Center would help with a $4 million deficit in the elementary district.

He said by moving students to other elementary schools, including Broadwater, Miles Avenue and Newman, the district would save $1.5 million annually.

That brought forth concerns of overcrowding, but Garcia assured that wouldn't be a problem. He says those schools will be at around 90 percent capacity.

"Some of these schools are 66 percent capacity 70 percent capacity," Garciua said. "So that means you have a lot of room. We're not maximizing. And this is in one area of town."

But not all parents of the 208 students in Washington are not on board with the idea and want their children to continue at the school. They made their voices heard at a meeting at the school Wednesday afternoon.

"Don't take these kids away from their teachers," one woman said.

"Here, they can spell," one man said about his children. "They're excelling."

"It seems high school students are more important," one woman said.

"All kids matter," Garcia said in response.

Garcia says this proposal is about working toward balancing the budget.

"We have to address the deficit," Garcia said. "It's in respect to the taxpayers. It is an expectation that the board has put forward for me. Part of the actions that we can take is consolidating school."

Garcia said the plan is repurposing Washington, but he understands why some call it a closure.

While many of the more than 75 who attended the meeting do not want the change, some are a little more receptive to the idea.

One woman said she does not want the change and advised to avoid becoming angry.

"My hope is that we're going to give these kids an opportunity to learn a different way," she said.

Garcia said the families will be happy with the quality of Broadwater, Miles Aveue and Newman, which he said compares well with Washington.

"There are parents that have a deep connection to the school," Garcia said. "It's not only great here. Those schools are also doing great things for kids."