Gazette opinion: Remember to vote for schools by Tuesday

2012-05-03T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Remember to vote for schools by Tuesday The Billings Gazette
May 03, 2012 12:10 am

The month of May will bring important decisions for Billings Public Schools. Trustees are on schedule to hire a new superintendent for our 16,000-student district.

But first, Billings voters will decide how much money their public schools will have in the coming year for operations, elementary technology and building repairs.

If you haven’t yet returned your school election mail ballot, please read the funding questions carefully and give your highest priority to the elementary and high school bond issues and to the elementary “technology acquisition and depreciation fund.”

The bond issues propose projects similar to those voters supported in 2010, which have funded new roofs, energy-efficient windows and fire alarms. This summer, a major heating-ventilation system upgrade at Senior High will be completed, thanks to voters who approved the 2010 bonds.

Upgrade buildings

The high school bond issue on the May 8 ballot will replace a 50-year-old boiler at West High and pay for upgrades of ventilation systems, a partial roof replacement and replacement of some windows with energy-efficient windows.

The elementary bond issue would replace worn-out roofs and plumbing fixtures, install energy-efficient windows and upgrade heating-ventilation systems. Projects would benefit Will James and Riverside middle schools, Bench, Bitterroot, Broadwater, Burlington, Central Heights, Highland, Meadowlark, McKinley, Miles Avenue, Rose Park and Washington elementary schools.

The projects are expected to reduce utility bills, which will save school operating costs for many years into the future.

The bonds are a great deal for local taxpayers. The federal government will pay all of the interest expense and will cover a portion of the $14 million principal repayment. Billings can get $14 million in building repairs/upgrades for less than $14 million. The projects authorized in 2010 employed mostly local contractors, pumping millions into the local economy. The same economic boost would be seen with the bonds proposed on the May 8 ballot.

Provide K-8 technology

The other priority issue is funding technology for our K-8 students. Voters previously approved a high school technology levy that has provided up-to-date teaching tools in nearly every classroom at our three main high schools.

However, there is no funding dedicated to technology for younger students. Most of our elementary schools have relied on PTA fundraisers to get computer labs. Billings schools have many more students than computers. While students in other communities are using tablet and laptop computers throughout the school day, computer use is much more limited for Billings K-8 students.

If approved by voters, the elementary technology levy of $1.2 million would continue annually, so long as the district complied with state law that requires the revenue to be spent on technology, training or tech maintenance.

As voters will see, there’s an unusual amount of reading on the May 8 ballot with three spending questions for the high school district and four for the K-8 district. Although the nine-member Billings school board has split on many issues this past year, trustees were unanimous in deciding to ask voters to approve the bond issues and the technology fund.

Ballots must be received by the elections office no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday.

If you haven’t voted yet, please consider supporting the bonds and technology fund as your highest priorities.

Voters all across Montana will cast school election ballots Tuesday. Please be part of this decision day for your public schools. Vote.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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