(EAST HELENA) East Helena School District leaders said they intend to put a bond proposal for a new high school before voters as early as this spring.
The East Helena school board held its first official planning meeting on a possible high school Monday evening. It came three weeks after voters approved doing further research on the feasibility of building a school, with 68 percent in favor.
Trustees decided during the meeting that they will aim to hold a bond election on May 8. However, they agreed to consider postponing the vote until the fall of 2018 if they haven’t gotten together all the necessary information.
East Helena is one of three Montana elementary school districts allowed to build high schools of their own under a new state law passed earlier this year. One of the others, Lockwood School District outside Billings, is also planning a bond proposal for May.
The law gives East Helena until November 2019 to hold the bond vote. But leaders said there were a number of reasons to move forward more quickly.
“The East Helena community has spoken,” said school board chair Scott Walter. “We don’t see any reason why we need to sit and wait for things to happen; we’re going to try to make things happen.”
Board members said they believe there is currently momentum behind the idea of building a high school in East Helena. They also want to take action before the Helena School District decides to propose a bond of its own. If a high school bond passes in Helena before East Helena expands to a K-12 district, East Helena residents will have to keep paying taxes for the life of that bond.
While some trustees expressed reservations about putting together a bond proposal so quickly, most said they believed the more aggressive timeline was feasible.
“It is a short time frame, but I know we can do it,” said trustee Ann Marie Thompson.
Now, the board will start the work of fleshing out the details of a high school proposal. They are setting up subcommittees to research issues like how much a school would cost and where it might be located.
Walter said he wants to make sure the community stays involved in every step of the process going forward.
“We’re hoping that the public will let us know what questions they have, what concerns that they have,” he said. “As we move forward, we’ll be able to address those concerns and answer those questions.”
If voters approve the bond proposal, it will be at least two or three more years before the high school opens its doors. It will be four more years before the first class graduates.
If voters reject the bond, East Helena will not be able to reconsider the high school issue for five years.