With ballots due in about a month and a half, Billings School District 2 officials have begun to move rapidly to promote a $12 million bond that they hope voters will approve come Sept. 7.
“Time is very short,” Chairwoman Barbara Bryan said at Monday night’s board meeting.
Ballots will be mailed out Aug. 19 and are due to the county elections office by Sept. 7.
Trustees have organized a group to help promote the bond to the community. In May, the Yes For Kids organization, which is supported in part by the Billings Chamber of Commerce, campaigned and helped the district win two of three mill levies worth $1.9 million.
Bryan said Yes For Kids will not be in involved in campaigning for the September bond. Still, the chamber has endorsed the district’s effort to go after the $12 million, as has the Billings Association of Realtors.
The $12 million is a combination of two federal, interest-free bonds for which the district is eligible. The projects were chosen specifically to address avoiding “future catastrophic damage,” maximizing utility savings and improving the learning environment for students at all its buildings across the city.
The district faces $123 million in deferred maintenance, according to figures released by the district in June.
The projects to be completed include replacing the 70-year-old boiler at Senior High, replacing the roofs at 10 different schools and replacing windows at seven schools and would save the district $94,435 a year in energy costs.
The bonds, part of a program that uses federal stimulus money, would raise property taxes for Billings landowners for the next 16 years.
Under the program, the federal government would pay the interest on the loan, and the district would pay back the principal. Adding the interest, the total amount of the loan would equal about $16 million.
Helping reduce the district’s debt load is a sinking fund that would accompany the bond and collect money over the 16 years. That money will then go toward paying back the loan. There’s also a possibility of state assistance to help the district pay back the bond.
With the addition of the sinking fund and the state help, trustees are hopeful that, of the total $16 million borrowed, the district — and ultimately taxpayers — will have to pay back only about $6 million.
Trustees are hopeful that voters will support the bond if they understand what a potentially good deal it is for the district.
Also at its meeting Monday, trustees declared a vacancy on the board effective Sept. 1.
The vacancy is a result of Trustee Mary Jo Fox's intent to resign from the board at the end of the summer. Fox is in the process of moving from the area she represents on the west side of the Heights – known as District 3 – to the Indian Cliffs neighborhood farther south, which is in District 6. District 6 is represented by Chairwoman Bryan.
Trustees voted to take applications for Fox’s replacement until Aug. 12. Anyone wishing to be appointed to Fox’s seat must have lived within District 3 for the last year and be a registered voter. Applicants also must submit a letter of intent and a resume to the board.
Trustees Kathy Aragon, Travis Kemp and Connie Wardell will serve on a screening panel that will interview each of the applicants and then make a recommendation to the board. Trustees hope to appoint Fox’s replacement at their September board meeting.
Whoever is appointed will have to run for the seat in May’s school board elections.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or 657-1231.