Group launches mill levy campaign, aiming for success

2013-03-12T21:00:00Z 2013-04-04T09:46:21Z Group launches mill levy campaign, aiming for successBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The organizers' message is simple: It's time. 

School District 2 is facing state accreditation trouble, overcrowded elementary classrooms and rapidly aging schools. If something isn't done, community leaders fear that the school district may not recover. 

"You cannot starve schools and expect great results," Steve Corning told a crowd of business leaders and community members Tuesday afternoon.

Corning, a developer, along with Lyle Knight, past CEO of First Interstate Bank, introduced the new Yes for Kids campaign Tuesday that will push for passage of two School District 2 mill levies this May.

Schoolchildren gathered in the background holding signs asking for support, and the Senior High Drum Line performed for the crowd. 

The campaign is led by a group of parents, high-profile business leaders, community organizers and educators. They launched the campaign on the campus of Montana State University Billings.

"We're in the talent development business," Rolf Groseth, MSUB chancellor, said of education. 

He talked about how the world is becoming increasingly competitive and students today need every advantage. 

"Our economy requires it," he said. "The best way for us to do it is with quality schools."

School District 2 is seeking one levy to help it hire new teachers. On Wednesday night, trustees may decide to go after a second levy to help elementary and middle schools beef up their technology. 

Hiring new teachers is the top priority for the district. SD2 currently faces sanctions from the state for having 93 classrooms with a student-teacher ratio higher than the state allows. 

Hiring new teachers will allow the district to trim that ratio, sending new teachers to some of its most crowded elementary schools. 

It's also the first step in SD2's plan to update its school facilities and address overcrowding through building construction. A successful levy means the district can afford to staff new schools.  

"If we don't do that (pass the levy), everything else is kind of a moot point," Heidi Duncan said. 

Heidi and her husband, Jim Duncan, are the co-chairs for the Yes for Kids campaign. Their daughter is a fourth-grader in the district, and they feel keenly the need to help SD2.

"It takes a team to educate a child," Heidi Duncan said. 

Stressed repeatedly at the launch party was the important relationship a healthy school district has to a healthy community. 

Without a strong school district, children are ill-served and under-educated. Area businesses have trouble recruiting top talent, which makes them less likely to stay in town. And an under-educated workforce in town means it will be be less likely to attract new businesses to Billings.

"We're concerned about economic development," Knight said. "It all centers around education."

That was the motivation behind Education 2020, the group formed by Knight and Corning to help support the school district. Their group is overseeing the campaign. 

Jim Duncan believes that Billings cares about its schools but understands that parents and community members have questions about the needs and direction of School District 2.

"We're going to do everything we can to get in front of voters so they can get their questions answered," he said. 

Ballots will be mailed April 19 and must be returned by May 7, the day of the election. 

Information on SD2, the levy, education funding and the campaign can be found at BillingsUniteForGreatSchools.com. To join the campaign, go to YesForBillingsKids.org.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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