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Battered textbooks at Skyview

A World History textbook with a broken binding sits on a student's desk in John Simpson's classroom in April 2016 at Skyview High School.

On their ballots in May, voters will see a levy to replace Billings high schools' outdated textbooks and materials and to hire new school staff members to focus on career education.

Billings Public Schools' Board of Trustees on Monday approved running the operational high school levy during the May mail election.

If passed, the high school levy will add almost $1 million dollars to the base school budget. Trustees expect to decide in March how much to levy.

The levy means an estimated annual tax increase of up to $5.02 on a $100,000 of home, or 42 cents a month. General fund school levies are local taxes boosting schools above a state-mandated minimum budget.

An elementary school levy of $1.3 million passed in 2018. It’s been 12 years since a high school levy has been passed.

Trustee Mike Leo called the tax increase a reasonable request.

“We have not passed a high school levy in 12 years," he said. "That leaves a significant amount of money that we have not asked the tax payers for."

The money would fund the replacement of outdated textbooks and materials, and new staff members — called "learning resource coordinators" — who would provide career counselling and coordinate opportunities like internships and job shadowing for students.

District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham stressed the importance of funding staffers for career counseling, gearing students toward technical education and increased opportunities to enter the workforce. He cited the aging workforce in Billings and the urgent need to train a new generation of workers.

“In the next 10 years Yellowstone County is expecting a job shortage of 50,000 jobs,” he said. “Baby Boomers are or have retired, and now we need to fill these positions.”

Overworked guidance counselors were a factor too, Upham said. Although each student has a guidance counselor, Upham said they can’t always focus on students' careers. The learning resource coordinators might lessen the load for guidance counselors, allowing them to focus more on the mental health and social issues of students.

Students want more opportunities, Upham said. He cited a career pathway survey, which said 88 percent of students said they wanted more real-world career experience.

Another complaint was outdated materials and textbooks for students, like 15-year old history books, and chemistry textbooks published in 1998. The operational levy would fund new materials, textbooks and resources for students.

An elementary levy was proposed as well, but trustees voted only to put a high school levy on the ballot. Upham said the high school had the greatest need and it was “only respectful to focus on the high school.”

The levy will be voted on in May in a mail-ballot elections.

Enrollment drop

Trustees also discussed a drop in enrollment from fall to spring.

The district lost more than 300 students from fall 2018 to spring 2019, which trustees called higher than average. High school students accounted for roughly two-thirds of the loss.

Overall, graduation rates for the 2017-2018 school year were the highest they've been, and the dropout rate did decrease. 

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Night Reporter

Night reporter for The Billings Gazette.