2 of 3 mill levies pass in tight SD2 vote

2010-05-04T20:30:00Z 2 of 3 mill levies pass in tight SD2 voteROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
May 04, 2010 8:30 pm  • 

Bolstering the hopes of district officials and parents, Billings voters approved two of the three Billings School District 2 mill levies Tuesday.

Passing soundly was the $1.8 million general-fund levy, which had 16,316 votes in favor, with 13,707 votes against. The $1.1 million high school technology levy was a much closer vote, with 17,562 votes in favor and 17,535 against, a difference of just 27 votes.

The $1.4 million elementary school technology levy lost with 15,182 “no” votes to 14,775 “yes” votes.

The move by voters to approve two of the three levies appears to chip away at the district’s historic record of not passing levies. Before Tuesday, voters in the last decade had rejected seven of the last 11 mill levies the district had sought.

“I personally feel like things are looking up,” said Paige Darden, a district parent and Yes for Kids campaign volunteer. “I think it’s good news. It’ll give our new superintendent some breathing room.”

Keith Beeman, associate superintendent of human resources at the Chino Valley Unified School District in Southern California, comes to the district this summer to take over for Superintendent Jack Copps.

Supporters had argued that the levies were much needed. The district faces a potential budget shortfall of $6 million by 2012, making officials, community leaders and many parents anxious to see the levies pass. Trying new techniques and running a highly visible, active campaign, organizers and volunteers put up thousands of yard signs, mailed out tens of thousands of postcards and campaigned online at sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The general-obligation mill levy for the elementary school district was seen by district officials and levy supporters as the most crucial for passage and will be used to pay teachers.

Roughly 90 percent of the $1.8 million would go to salaries to pay off contract obligations the district made almost three years ago. SD2 and its unions signed a three-year contract in 2008 that gave staffers a 2 percent raise the first year, a 3.75 percent raise the second year and a 3.6 percent raise this year.

The two technology levies were to help the district achieve four goals: increasing student learning opportunities, offering staff professional development, improving access to current technology and improving and reorganizing support and infrastructure.

By law, the money from technology levies can be spent only on technology, upgrades and support. The district has already had success using videoconferencing technology to connect elementary school students to the Beartooth Nature Center in Red Lodge and connecting West High students to teenagers in the Near East.

Voter turnout for the election was high. In all, 35,378 ballots were cast, compared to just over 28,000 in last year’s mill levy election.

Darden sees the turnout as evidence of growing community involvement in the schools and hopes to see it continue.

“My hope is that all — the 15,000 who voted for the levy and the 14,000 who voted against it — will stay involved,” she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231.

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