The campaign was launched, complete with sugar cookies and helium-filled balloons.
Organizers with the Yes For Kids campaign held a rally at Beartooth Elementary in the Heights on Tuesday to build support for the elementary school mill levy that will appear on the May 4 ballot.
“We’ve really got an enthusiastic group,” said Bruce MacIntyre, director of government affairs for the Billings Chamber of Commerce and its liaison to the Yes For Kids campaign. “I feel really good about it.”
The $1.8 million elementary school levy that would support the general operating fund is one of three levies the district is hoping to pass this May.
The other two are a $1.4 million technology mill levy for the elementary school district and a $1.1 million technology mill levy for the high school district.
As speaker after speaker made the case for passing the levy — seven people in all — the enthusiasm seemed to border at times on desperation.
Billings residents have not approved a substantial mill levy in almost three years. And during the past decade, seven of the 11 mill levies proposed have been rejected by voters, a passing rate of 33 percent, noted George Selover, a retired businessman and grandparent in the district.
“Our kids do not deserve a 33 percent approval rating,” he said.
Over the next two years, Billings School District 2 faces millions of dollars in budget shortfalls. The levies are increasingly being seen by many as one of the last, best hopes for the district to pull through its financial woes.
Complicating the issue is the failure Monday of the district’s labor union and the board to reach an agreement on a pay raise reduction for employees. Many community leaders and teachers had hoped a move to reduce staff pay raises would soften public sentiment toward the district and help in passing the mill levies.
“It’s a bump in the road,” MacIntyre said. “We have to stay focused on the kids.”
The messages Tuesday afternoon certainly reflected the student-centered focus. Community leaders who stood to speak were accompanied by their children. The messages focused on the importance of strong schools to better educate young generations of Billings residents and to make the area appealing for businesses to better recruit talent.
“A community cannot thrive unless its schools are healthy,” said real estate agent and parent Jase Norsworthy.
Many speakers made reference to the state law that requires the legislature to fund schools at 80 percent and the local communities to fund the remaining 20 percent through mill levies.
“I believe people will support what they understand,” said parent and campaign co-chairwoman Karen Sanford Gall.
If the community understands that state school funding requires community-approved mill levies, they’ll vote to support their students.
Norsworthy pleaded that the community not use the mill levy to express any displeasure it may have with taxes, the school board or the district.
“Save those ‘no’ votes for when it comes time to elect legislators,” he said. “That’s where it belongs.”
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 406-657-1231.