Gazette opinion: 2 wins for quality Billings Public Schools

2010-05-06T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: 2 wins for quality Billings Public Schools The Billings Gazette
May 06, 2010 12:00 am

Anyone who wondered if one vote would make a difference should look at the Tuesday school election results. The Billings high school technology levy passed by a margin of just 27 votes out of 35,097 cast.

Joyce Weber was elected to the Billings school board from trustee zone 2 (east Heights and North Park) with 36 write-in votes, just four more than her closest opponent, Christopher Leffler, received.

The relatively high voter turnout — 53.26 percent — turned into a big win for Billings public school students. A majority of voters (54.35 percent) approved a $1.8 million increase in the K-8 district’s general fund operating levy. School leaders said that levy boost is essential for maintaining elementary and middle school services next year as enrollment in primary grades is expected to increase.

The narrow margin of victory for the high school technology levy will provide $1 million annually for upgrading, replacing and maintaining technology that is critical for preparing students for postsecondary study and the workplace.

At the same time, the $1.4 million elementary technology levy failed by a margin of 407 votes out of 29,957 cast.

Neighborhood votes

A Yellowstone County Election Department breakdown of votes by elementary trustee zone shows that the general fund levy passed everywhere, except for Zone 1, which covers the South Side. The defeated elementary technology levy garnered a majority of votes in three of seven zones: Zones 4, 6 and 7 which encompass a large area from the far West End to the west side of Pioneer Park.

The high school technology levy passed on the strength of its support in the same three elementary trustee zones. Elsewhere in the city and in the outlying elementary districts that send their children to Billings high schools, a majority of voters said no to the high school levy.

Voters in Elder Grove, Lockwood and Independent school districts also turned down general fund levies in their smaller districts. However, Blue Creek voters backed a one-year building reserve levy for their elementary school.

The highest Billings turnout was 58 percent in Zones 4 and 6 where the three levy issues were the only questions on the ballot. In Zone 7, voters elected Connie Wardell to the school board in a three-way race. Voters in Zone 1 elected Todd Kemp, who was recently appointed to fill a board vacancy, to a three-year term. Congratulations to Wardell and Kemp for running positive campaigns. We wish them and the other trustees success in dealing with the many challenges of leading Montana’s largest school district.

Thanks to Yes for Kids

Tuesday’s results are a welcome break in a long-term trend toward school levy losses in Billings. Thanks are due to all the voters who supported their local schools, especially at a time when many of them have tighter personal finances.

The Yes for Kids campaign, led by Bruce MacIntyre and Karen Sanford Gall enlisted many concerned parents, grandparents and business people who spoke up on behalf of public schools. Their positive, energetic campaign was surely a significant factor in the two levies passing. The Yes for Kids volunteers worked hard to raise awareness about the schools and the levies. These volunteers have provided a great service for the students and this community.

With the additional tax support that voters approved Tuesday, Billings Public Schools will have resources to better meet the needs of the 10,000 children in our elementary and middle schools and the 5,500 teens in our high schools.

The school board, administration and staff now have the responsibility of using this voter investment to provide the greatest benefit to all our students. Their task still won’t be easy.  State revenue collections, which provide partial funding for schools, have dropped over the past year, and projections for a state budget shortfall total hundreds of millions of dollars for the next biennium. The voted tax levies will help Billings Public Schools weather the coming state budget crunch.

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