Big Sky High School

State Senate Debates HS Bill

If passed, could create new district; Big Sky could drop AA classification

March 14, 2017

UPDATE 5/2/17–

Senate Bill 139 has now became a law after a 97-3 vote. After going through the house and committee, it was signed by the governor on April 18, 2017. The three school districts that is could effect now have the option to change int a K-12 district instead of a K-8.

UPDATE 3/29/17 —

Senate bill 139 has passed the Senate with a 49-0 vote and is now onto the House. Two years ago in the house is where a similar bill fell short of three votes. This bill gives the community more local control on education.


SB 139 removed a provision that would have made the larger district’s assets divide with the new high school district. Another thing being the transition over time of students to the new high school, one grade at a time.


When a district reaches capacity, do you build a new high school or send students to another district?

Because of growing enrollment, Missoula County has to do a lot of thinking about over capacity and building of a new high school within the next five years. If enrollment keeps going up and a new school is built, Superintendent Mark Thane says that enrollment in the three AA high schools will go down, most likely causing Missoula to go to two AA high schools instead of three.

About half of Big Sky’s student population comes from the Hellgate district, so if a new high school was built our enrollment would go way down.Not only will student enrollment go down but teaching positions and classes offered in the three AA high schools will be cut due to the lower enrollment.

Big Sky High School’s principal, Natalie Jaeger testified against the bill in 2015. She says the strong programming of MCPS would suffer if Big Sky went down to an A high school instead of a AA high school.

“It would be detrimental to our students and reduce options greatly.” Jaeger says

The students she has talked to about the change say that the reason they like going out of district after going to a K-8 school is because they get to experience new students and new opportunities. Half of Big Sky’s student population comes from the Hellgate district, so if a new high school was built our enrollment would go way down.


Montana Senate Bill 139, introduced by Sen. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, which is allowing an elementary school district with at least 1000 to expand into a K-12 under certain conditions (including the passage of a bond to build or outfit a high school building) was introduced in October of 2016 and passed out of the Committee of Education and Cultural Resources in February of 2017 with a 8-0 vote.

In 2015, a similar bill was brought to the senate but fell three votes short of approval. With revision to the bill, two years later it has been passed out of committee and is on to another Senate committee.

Senate Bill 139 also revises eligibility criteria, procedure and funding for an existing elementary school district to expand into a K-12 school district.

Hellgate Elementary in Missoula, East Helena, and Lockwood near Billings are the only schools who meet the requirements of expansion.

Hellgate was brought to consideration by the school board and their district superintendent. With 1,500 students and 168 staff members, they are over capacity.  They also want to change from a K-8 district to a K-12 district.

Another thing is Missoula taxpayers are paying more for a renovation bond that was put into place two years ago

The bill requires the existing high school district to provide instruction to K-12 district high school student for a period of time while the school is being built and the K-12 district for providing this instruction. The district would also have to split computers, textbooks, etc with the new high school, providing for proportional distribution of block grants to the resulting districts

Not only will this affect the Hellgate district but the MCPS district.

MCPS has strong programming and diverse options to all students. Creating an open environment for diversity of all students.

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