Support for School Levy Shows Personal Responsibility

May 3rd, 2010 · 7:17 am  →  News

by Ceci Bentler

The public education mill levy system is seemingly designed to challenge a community to either invest in its children or not. Doesn’t voting “yes” demonstrate the “personal responsibility” it seems so many Americans crave?

What are the options? Cut sports/activities? In a prominent Columbus, Ohio, suburb, elimination of sports resulted in families, rich and poor, moving out en masse. Businesses closed, the housing market collapsed — the town is now failing. Cut teachers? This means packed classrooms, loss of accreditation (and federal dollars), loss of entry-level positions for Montana grads and the inability to compete for the brightest educators. Cluster schools? This means firing teachers, closing schools and then busing kids every two years to a new school. This saves the district money, but not you. Transportation for schools is funded by permissive levies, legally allowing the state to tax you anyway. For the average homeowner, wouldn’t $5 a month be worth the satisfaction of knowing you were part of the elected, not forced, solution?

Perceptions of poor budgeting, residual anger from strikes, school closures, personal anecdotes about undesirable teachers and frustration with administration exist nationwide. But I choose not to punish Billings’ kids today for the real or perceived mistakes of a few.

We have a new superintendent and a growing, business-minded board. Legions of community members have volunteered thousands of hours over the years on budgeting, staffing, planning and curriculum committees — they care. They are showing personal responsibility for public education. You can too by voting yes.

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Support Schools for Grandkids’ Sake

May 3rd, 2010 · 7:17 am  →  News

by K. Dean and Laverne Frank

My husband and I have four sons who graduated from School District 2 with a quality education. Our youngest son graduated in ’97. Today we have two granddaughters who will be educated in the same system. We hope they, too, will have the same quality education as their father and uncles before them.

We need to continue with the personalized classroom education, access to art, music and physical education. This is only possible with proper funds.

Our children are the future and hope of Billings, and we must not let them down. As citizens of this city, it is our responsibility to vote yes for the proposed School District mill levy on the May ballot.

We owe this to our children and our community.

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If Schools Decline, Taxes Will Rise in Billings

April 30th, 2010 · 11:02 am  →  News

by Alex Tyson

Hey Billings homeowners! Want to know how to RAISE your property taxes? Vote “NO” for the Billings Public School Mill Levies next month!

Confused? Read on. When the district has no choice but to lay off a few dozen teachers, eliminate critical programs and possibly close a school or two, class sizes will skyrocket and the quality of education in our city will decline almost immediately.

Then, as soon as we have finished changing our city’s moniker from “Montana’s Trailhead” to “Billings: Not the Sharpest Folks,” families will leave town in search of cities where the citizens support the educational needs of the kids. As Billings’ reputation for excellence in public education is replaced by a reputation of failure, the tax base in Billings will actually shrink. Property values will decline. Then, because there are fewer homes to share the collective tax burden, each homeowner will get to pay … you guessed it … more taxes!

It’s a 3-for-1 deal! We can stick it to the 15,681 public school kids in Billings, lower the value of our homes, and increase our property taxes all at the same time!

Sorry for the cynicism, but the truth is that there’s a lot more to this vote than a small bump in taxes. If you don’t fully understand what the levies are for, go to www.YesforBillingsKids.org and learn about it. These levies are important. Take the time to vote “YES” when the ballots arrive next month in the mail. It’s our responsibility as citizens to adequately fund our schools and help our community grow.

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Billings Schools Provide World-Class Education

April 30th, 2010 · 11:02 am  →  News

by Katie Gates (who wrote this letter working abroad in Paris)

As a proud former student of the Billings Public School system I am writing to appeal to voters to support the mill levies this year. Since leaving Senior High School, I have attended a top college and graduate school and have been lucky to work all over the world. My initial apprehensions — could I compete with kids who went to elite private schools their whole life — were soon met with a resounding yes. This is thanks to the academic foundation I received in Billings.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities Billings taxpayers provided for my future through funding education. My hope is that my nephews and all Billings school children can receive the same world-class education and extracurricular enrichments. Investment in the mill levies will ensure that Billings continues to prepare its students for success — a worthy legacy.

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Why Billings Schools Need the Levies to Pass This Year

April 29th, 2010 · 12:43 pm  →  News

by Malcolm Goodrich, Chair, SD2 School Board

By unanimous vote, the Billings School District 2 board agreed to place an elementary-district operating levy of $1.8 million, an elementary-district technology levy of $1.4 million and a high school district technology levy of $1 million before Yellowstone County voters in May. This decision was not taken lightly. The board is mindful of its need to balance tax burdens placed upon the voters with the Montana constitutional mandate to provide a quality educational opportunity for all of its students. However, both the elementary and high school districts are at a critical funding set point where expenditure reductions must be tempered with a levy increase in order to soften looming budget shortfalls.

Grim projections

District 2 is projecting deficits of $2.16 million in the elementary district and $1.97 million in the high school district for the 2010-2011 year. The combined deficit for the two districts is projected to be nearly $6 million in 2011-12. The projected combined deficit of $6 million in 2011-12 is based upon an assumption of no additional contractual raise for District 2 staff in that year.

Without passage of the levies, our school system will not look the same as it does today. People are understandably concerned with the recent proposal for cluster-type schools in 2011-12 forward. That decision could save the elementary district approximately $900,000 yet would terminate our neighborhood schools as they presently exist. However, even that draconian solution (which no one on the board wants to implement) would come up short in solving the projected elementary district shortfall in that year if the levies are not passed. Without passage of the levies, other equally unpalatable structural changes would have to occur to bring the budget into balance.

The district is running out of alternatives because it must meet state and federal mandates, some of which are only partially funded. There is no fat to trim in District 2 budgets. This magnitude of cut will go right into the bone structure of the district without passage of the levies.

Montana’s school funding system is based upon the statutorily mandated need for school districts to request levies of local property taxes to offset the effect of inflation on school operational budgets. During the 17 years from 1991 through 2007, the state-provided education funding increase was less than the published Consumer Price Index in 14 of those years. While inflation is for the moment at low ebb, many years of underfunding from the state, coupled with a failure to pass levies locally, has taken a toll on the ability of District 2 to keep pace with inflation over the long term.

If this is all true, why did the district recently reject the offer by its union employees to accept a 1 percent pay cut in 2010-11? All board members appreciate the unions’ proposal to trim 1 percentage point from its contractual raise in 2010-11. However, the unions required a one-year contract extension into 2011-12 with the 1 percent added back into that year. The district bargaining team believes that a contract extension of the existing terms (plus the 1 percent) into 2011-12 is not something that can be performed by the district under its budget projections. The district bargaining team believes that it must keep all options open in order to close the deficit gap, including potential changes to contract terms in 2011-12. The district would be prevented from doing so if the current contract is simply extended into that critical deficit year. That is why it reluctantly could not accept the unions’ proposal.

Limited options

Over the last five years, when the board has said it will make cuts it has done so. The board has tried to keep cuts away from the classrooms, even to the point where it is now in accreditation noncompliance for counselors and librarians. Unfortunately, our ability to craft reasonable options is at an end given the projected 2011 forward deficit. The board must act aggressively to do everything that it can to close the deficit gap; it must balance its budget as a matter of state law. The board is acting prudently to address this problem, one aspect of which is to request that the voters implement these levies to preserve the quality school system that we all enjoy and one that is required under our state constitution.

Malcolm Goodrich is an attorney and chairman of the board of trustees for Billings Public Schools.

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Billings Public Schools Serve Children Well

April 28th, 2010 · 9:01 am  →  News

by Pat Karell

As our youngest child graduates from West High School, and 22 years as a School District 2 parent draw to a close, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Jack Copps, Scott Anderson and Kathy Olson, as well as the staff, teachers and administrators who have dedicated their time and talents to the education of our children. In spite of budget shortfalls, the school district’s rigorous pursuit of academic excellence has not faltered. Our students have been blessed with an outstanding education. We owe our heartfelt thanks to everyone in the school system who has been a positive influence upon our children. Thank you for choosing education as your profession. Your passion and dedication to our students has made a lasting contribution to their lives and their futures.

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Let’s rekindle tradition of support for schools

April 28th, 2010 · 8:53 am  →  News

by George Selover, community volunteer and leader

When my wife and I moved to Billings in 1955, there were excellent public schools grades one through 12 available for our kids’ education. Someone else paid for these schools to benefit ours and many other kids. The existence of these schools is a legacy that has been passed from generation to generation with great success. That legacy continued unfailingly for many years with almost all levies requested by School District 2 in Billings approved over a 45-year period. This legacy seems to have lost its credence in the last 10 years.

Consider this: There are 427 school districts in Montana. Over the last 10 years these school districts have asked their voters to approve levies to operate their schools 1,239 times. Records show that more than 90 percent of those levy requests were approved.

Local levy passage lags

Over that same period of time, School District 2 in Billings requested voters to approve five elementary levies and seven high school levies. Only four of those requests were approved for an approval rate of 33 percent. The vast majority of these levy requests are for school districts much smaller than School District 2 in Billings. Why is their approval rating about three times higher than Billings over the last 10 years? I believe the answer is that the voters in these small communities have great pride in their schools, which are such an important part of their community. If so, Billings needs to rekindle our pride in our schools.

Billings claims to be “the star of the Big Sky Country” and “Montana’s trailhead.” Evidently that does not apply to our recent support of education for our kids.

These levy requests are not about the school board members who were elected by you voters; it is not about the administration or its staff; it is not about the teachers. It is about our kids, our grandchildren, their education and their future.

Show pride in schools

Our kids do not deserve a 33 percent levy success rate while their peers in the rest of Montana, with whom they are in competition for college entrance and scholarship awards, enjoy a 90-plus percent approval rating. I urge you to return to the education legacy Billings provided for many years in the past and show your pride in our schools by not only approving the levies this year, but to do so in the future so that we can and will provide the best possible education for our kids, our grandchildren and their children. I understand that approval of all three requested levies would add only $3.93 per month to a home with a $100,000 market value. That is a very small amount to invest in our kids, our grandchildren and Billings future.

To restart this formerly long-lasting education legacy, vote yes for kids when you receive the mail-in ballot for the May 4 election, and continue to say yes for kids in the future.

Submit your own letter of support.

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The “Yes for Kids” Pledge

April 27th, 2010 · 9:17 am  →  News

You know the old adage, “Every vote counts?” Well, it’s true. So the Yes For Kids Committee came up with a fun little pledge to remind you that your yes vote won’t count unless you actually fill out your ballot and mail it in. With that in mind, we offer you this:

The Yes for Kids Pledge: I, (state your name), because I am a person of great significance, and, I might add, a person who is loved deeply by all who know me, and who is envied by those who have not yet had the pleasure, do hereby promise, I mean really, truly promise, to vote “YES” for the school mill levies.

And when I fill out my ballot, I hereby promise to do it correctly.

I will darken the proper circles.

I will not use check marks or Xs.

I will not erase, cross out, or white-out anything.

I will use a No. 2 pencil or black ink, nothing else.

I will place my completed ballot in the colored secrecy envelope and seal it.

I will sign the voter affidavit on the back of the envelope, and then place the secrecy envelope inside the voter affidavit envelope.

I will then attach a 44-cent stamp and mail it well before the May 4 deadline.

And finally, I will do these things because I care about our kids, our community, and the future of our fine city.

Thanks for your support, Billings!

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Billlings Gazette: “Other towns in Montana routinely pass school mill levies.”

April 19th, 2010 · 10:45 am  →  News

The last time a general obligation mill levy failed in Bozeman was 1982.

“We have a community that’s very connected to the schools and proud of the schools,” said Steve Johnson, the business services director for Bozeman Public Schools… Read the rest of the story on the “Billings Gazette” web site

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Billings Gazette: “School levy supporters trying new techniques.”

April 19th, 2010 · 10:43 am  →  News

Three mill levies will go before voters this month — one to help Billings’ elementary school district meet its bottom line and two to help the elementary and high school districts update technology. Read the rest of the story on the “Billings Gazette” web site

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