It's official - Montana has a new community college district. The Montana Legislature last week passed Senate Joint Resolution 15, creating the Bitterroot Valley Community College District. The vote in the House was 61 to 39 and the Senate vote was 47 to 3. The district had been requested by Ravalli County voters last year, who also selected seven people to be trustees-elect, even though no official district existed then.

Bitterroot College was created as a program of the University of Montana, which has been setting the classes and budget for the Hamilton facility in the former Westview School building on West Main. Upon establishment of the new college district, those decisions will be done locally, though trustees have said they will continue to work with the University of Montana.

First, however, the trustees must be officially seated, which should happen within the next month. The group has been unofficially working for the last year getting approval from the state Board of Regents and the Office of Public Instruction, leading up to the legislative resolution. In an interview last week, board member Gary Carlson said that now they will be able to have regular public board meetings as the trustees deal with future staffing, classes and the other details involved with taking the college to the next level. The actual completion of plans may take at least a year.

Carlson said, "Many of the high school graduates have been going out of state, looking for other places to go for education, other than the University of Montana. So, it is actually going to be a real boon to the local school districts." The community college district was supported by the valley's school districts and the Ravalli County commissioners, with support also coming from Governor Greg Gianforte.

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