Bonds, budgets on SD2 agenda

2010-06-20T23:23:00Z 2010-06-22T23:43:57Z Bonds, budgets on SD2 agendaROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
June 20, 2010 11:23 pm  • 

Trustees will be discussing bonds, budgets, service contracts and the nascent Montana Digital Academy at Monday’s Billings School District 2 board meeting.

District officials learned in late March they were eligible to participate in two bond programs that would allow them to borrow a total of $12 million. Under the program, the school district would pay back only the principal on the loan. The federal government would pay the interest.

“This is a great opportunity for you to finance a project at lower costs,” Bridget Ekstrom, vice president of D.A. Davidson & Co., a Bozeman-based financial-services company advising the district, told the board’s budgeting committee last week.

Money from the bond can only be used on “shovel-ready” maintenance and improvement projects in the district. Trustees will vote Monday on whether to take the bond to voters in September.

Also up for discussion will be SD2’s participation in The Montana Digital Academy. The academy is a relative new program created by the state legislature that allows high school students to take classes online.

“We’ve been talking about this for a very long time in Montana,” said Superintendent Jack Copps. “It’ll provide additional opportunities for students.”

Classes range from remedial math and English courses that get students caught up to grade level, to language, Advanced Placement and dual college credit classes such as Latin and oceanography that students can take to get ahead.

And because they’re online, students can do them any time of the day or night. SD2’s participation in the academy would mean credits earned by SD2 students who complete classes would be recognized by the district. Also, it would open the door to SD2 teachers to teach with the academy.

Increasingly, students are more comfortable using digital platforms to learn, Copps said. “It may actually begin to change the way we currently look at our high schools.”

Also at the meeting, trustees will hear proposals from its budget committee that include keeping in place cuts the committee recommended earlier this spring.

With the passage of the general fund elementary mill levy in May, the district will finish the school year with a budget surplus. Come next year, the district is facing a potential budget shortfall in state funding from $5 million to $10 million.

Committee members decided at their meeting last week to recommend the board put as much money away as possible to prepare for the potentially massive shortfall.

Finally, two charter bus companies, Rimrock Stages and Coach America, have put in bids to supply the district with out-of-town transportation for its students in the coming school year. Both companies maintain a fleet of 55-passenger tour buses the district would use for teams, groups and clubs traveling to activities and competitions in other parts of the state and throughout the Mountain West.

The district’s past contract has been with Rimrock.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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