SD2 board, city council and county commissioners talk bonds and levies

2013-03-08T18:32:00Z 2013-04-04T09:46:21Z SD2 board, city council and county commissioners talk bonds and leviesBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

Mayor Tom Hanel offered up some words of encouragement. 

"This room is full of supportive people," he said. 

He was speaking to School District 2 trustees. The board met with members of the city council and two county commissioners on Friday afternoon.

Earlier in the week, two trustees signaled their desire to change their votes on a decision the SD2 board made late Monday night regarding the order in which two middle schools and an elementary school would be built by the district.

"We've exercised that opportunity (to change votes) within the council," Hanel told them. "It's fairly common."

At the meeting, the group discussed the upcoming mill levy election in May, the bonds SD2 hopes to go after in the fall, school-funding bills in the Legislature and maybe swapping land between the city and the school district. 

The levy that goes before voters in May -- actually, the ballots will be mailed out on April 19 and must be returned by May 7 -- is a general fund mill levy that the district will use to hire new teachers. 

"One-hundred percent of those funds go to hiring new teachers," Superintendent Terry Bouck told the group. 

SD2 needs new teachers to begin addressing its overcrowded classrooms. But it also needs the space in which to house them, so eventually the district will have to build new schools. To pay for the schools, trustees hope to have a bond election ready in the fall. 

And none of that will happen if the district fails to pass the May levy, Bouck said.

"It's all connected," he explained. 

County Commissioner Bill Kennedy asked about the school-funding bills being debated in the state legislature. Those also are key to the district having enough money to address its overcrowded school issues, said board Chairwoman Teresa Stroebe. 

Kennedy is worried residents won't vote for the levy because they think the Legislature will give SD2 the money it needs. 

Bouck explained that all three have to fall into place -- the levy, the bond and an increase in state funding -- if the district is going to reduce its overcrowded classrooms. 

If the legislature passes a school funding bill, "it helps us, but it doesn't bail us out," Bouck said. 

The board and council also tackled the issue of swapping land. For almost two years, the council and school board have talked about a possible land swap of properties that serve no purpose to the city or the school district. 

Most famous is a strip of city land that bisects multiple acres of school district land around and behind the Career Center. The city also has a landlocked square of land behind Beartooth Elementary in the Heights. 

City officials have proposed swapping those parcels for two ball diamonds the district owns between Castle Rock Middle School and Sandstone Elementary. Both schools sit alongside the city's Castle Rock Park. 

The two sides will examine the proposal and revisit it at the next meeting.


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