Gazette opinion: Volunteers make optimistic pitch for Billings schools

2010-03-26T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Volunteers make optimistic pitch for Billings schools The Billings Gazette
March 26, 2010 12:00 am

In three weeks, mail ballots will arrive at homes all over Billings, asking voters to decide on funding requests for operating the city’s 26 elementary and middle schools as well as requests for money to augment technology for public school students K-12.

The effort to win support for these three levies is being led by a coalition of local volunteers — parents, grandparents and business people who have banded together in the Yes For Kids Campaign. The campaign is spearheaded by the Billings Chamber of Commerce whose executive board has endorsed all three levy proposals.

Earlier this week, Chamber President John Brewer, Governmental Affairs Director Bruce MacIntyre and Big Sky State Games Executive Director Karen Sanford Gall sat down with The Billings Gazette Editorial Board to talk about why they support Yes For Kids.

“We’ve gotten in the habit of not supporting our schools,” Sanford Gall said.

“We want to change the mindset,” MacIntyre said. “We want people to think about what we need to accomplish.”

“We have to consider the global economy,” he said. “We need to prepare our kids to compete for jobs, but not just in Billings.”

“We gotta get over this recession mindset,” Brewer said. “We’ve got to get out and support our schools and spend locally.”

This year, Yes For Kids is focusing on personal conversations with community members to spread the word about supporting local public schools in the May 4 election. There will be less mass media advertising and more reliance on volunteers telling their friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Already about 300 people have volunteered for Yes for Kids. MacIntyre and Superintendent Jack Copps are speaking to interested community groups. Yes For Kids is using Facebook, Twitter and a Web site, YesforBillingsKids.org, to get its positive message out.

“It’s more than a campaign, it’s a movement,” Sanford Gall said. “We need to be reconnecting with a sense of community. We need to come together and realize it’s for everyone.”

Brewer, a father with students in Billings Public Schools, said he values excellent teachers.

“Billings teachers spend an average of $50 a month out of their own pockets on students,” said Brewer, who would like to see the district be able to cover more of students’ needs so teachers wouldn’t have to spend so much of their own money.

Statewide, year after year, voters in more than 90 percent of school districts pass annual operating levies, technology levies, building reserve levies and bond issues for new school construction or major renovation. However in Billings, voters haven’t approved any school levy since 2007, which means our public schools have had to operate with less than the full budget authority permitted by state law. The district has no technology levies.

Yes For Kids volunteers are saying that’s not acceptable. Billings has 15,500 children who depend on voter support for quality public education — just as their parents and grandparents did.

We commend Yes For Kids volunteers for their positive approach to this community challenge. As Brewer said, “The community’s only as good as its schools.”

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