Volunteers Darlene Rector and Liz Fulton got a nice surprise Saturday afternoon just as they started canvassing a Billings neighborhood for Yes For Kids.
Terese Blanding, who was walking along the 500 block of Clark Avenue, stopped to talk with the two women. When she learned they were out to garner votes for the upcoming bond election, she told them to count her in.
“She told us ‘I always vote for those things,’ ” Fulton said afterward. “She said ‘just put me down as a supporter.’ ”
When Rector and Fulton asked if she’d agree to put a “Yes For Kids” sign in her yard, she agreed to that, as well.
The two women, buoyed by the chance meeting, started knocking on doors in the well-kept neighborhood. They were part of a small cadre of volunteers going door to door to gauge support for the $122 million bond put before voters by School District 2.
The bond would build two new middle schools and repair, refurbish and remodel a number of aging elementary schools, including complete renovations of McKinley and Broadwater elementary schools.
The election will be by mail, and ballots go out to voters on Friday. To be counted, ballots must be returned to the county elections office by Nov. 5.
The Yes For Kids campaign kicked off on Sept. 26, and since then volunteers have canvassed neighborhoods, put up signs and made telephone calls to voters from headquarters in a former car dealership.
On Saturday, a half-dozen women met for training with campaign manager Joe Splinter and campaign co-chair Jim Duncan before going out in pairs. Splinter advised the women to keep their message brief and to the point.
“The briefer the better,” Splinter said. “There’s a lot to talk about.”
He encouraged the women to tell voters the two new middle schools would help alleviate overcrowding across the district, since sixth graders from all the elementary schools would move up to the middle schools. Splinter talked about the desperate need to renovate Broadwater and McKinley.
He also mentioned that people who own a home valued at $100,000 would pay $5.48 a month for the 20-year bond, while a house valued at $200,000 would pay $10.95.
Duncan told the volunteers that while voting for the bond is a big commitment, it's also a long-term investment.
“Someone did it for us, someone built these schools," he said. "We’re trying to ensure that future generations have them, too. We feel like we’re all going to give a little bit for that.”
Splinter and Duncan also said some people may ask why the district is seeking passage of the bond only months after it sought approval of two elementary levies in the spring.
Voters approved a $1 million levy in May to hire teachers to alleviate overcrowding in classrooms. The district hired 20 new teachers and cut the number of overfull classes from 93 to 54.
Voters also approved a $1.2 million levy to boost technology for students. Duncan said from the start, the campaign made clear the levies and the bond were both critical to the district's future.
Fulton and Rector, armed with fliers, used a list to guide them to selected homes. No one answered at many of the houses, so they left fliers in the doors with notes scribbled on them.
When a door opened, one or the other handed the person a flier. Did the person have any questions? Might they support the bond?
One woman told them she hadn’t yet decided. A second one politely told them she doesn’t plan to vote for the bond.
A third woman assured them she intends to vote yes. She also agreed to put a sign in her yard.
“I don’t usually do anything political because it causes problems, but in this case, I will,” she said.
Before they started knocking on doors, Rector and Fulton talked about why they decided to volunteer. Rector, a retired teacher who taught for 31 years, said she knows firsthand the difficulty of teaching in an overcrowded classroom.
“It’s challenging for the teacher to get through to all the kids,” she said. “There’s never any time for one on one and the kids learn the absolute best when they can get some individual attention.”
Fulton, who spent nine years on the board of the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, said a well-functioning school district benefits the entire community.
“This is an issue that everybody should be thinking about, not just parents, not just grandparents, not just business owners, but all of us,” she said. “We have a vibrant, strong, growing community and this is just one of the aspects that need to remain strong.”