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Billings passes first high school levy in 12 years

Superintendent Greg Upham, right, embraces Todd Buchanan after polling results show that Billings passed the high school levy during a watch party at CJ's Garage on Tuesday.

Wow Billings!

We had hoped the community would rally around a modest pitch for a high school levy that would improve educational opportunities on several different levels.

On Tuesday night, voters resoundingly and convincingly approved the levy by approximately a 60 to 40 percent vote. Those results speak volumes about education's value, the quality and confidence of our public schools, and the kind of community Billings continues to become.

Let's take that last point first because we believe several important things have happened recently.

We believe that Billings understands that a great, strong public school system will pay dividends for the entire community. We will have a better educated workforce if our schools are better. Moreover, we can attract other employers, companies and professionals to town by demonstrating a strong track record of support for our public education system.

We point to two recent big votes of confidence here in Billings. First, we approved a major bond to construct middle schools and renovate other district schools several years ago. We now see the benefits of less crowding, and beautiful facilities, namely Joseph Medicine Crow and Ben Steele middle schools. We can't help but think that our community's track record of educational support will help solidify the reputation that Billings cares about its students and its schools.

This particular levy was necessary because the need for both career counseling and textbooks was extreme. The Gazette had showcased and recounted how badly the need was by textbooks that were falling apart, and classrooms that could barely scrape together a complete set. Some of the textbooks were severely outdated, especially in science and social studies. This will help update those important areas and help keep students competitive.

Some critics of the levy grumbled about the the need for textbooks, arguing that print was outmoded or that schools should be replacing those as they go along. But at six-figure replacement costs, schools aren't much if they don't have books and the community understood that in a big way.

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The second and maybe most inspirational part of the levy was that it continued a great series of positive steps towards improving Billings' schools as a means of improving the future workforce. We've reported the impending job shortages the community will face as Baby Boomers retire out of the workforce. We've said that it's simply not feasible to import enough talent to fill those future and current jobs. That means that Billings must grow its own workforce. In order to do that, we'll need schools poised for state-of-the-art learning, and we'll need to start talking with students earlier about career paths.

Due to the Career Center and recent efforts to get students into the workforce and familiar with career opportunities, the schools have been making incredible strides. But, as many district officials pointed out, career counseling, training options and considerations have to happen well before the junior and senior years of high school. By supporting this levy, the voters approved more career counseling that sets students on the path to careers, not just graduation.

Finally, we believe that Billings recognizes the value of stable, cooperative leadership at both the administrative and union levels. The teachers and their unions have been able to come together with reasonable, stable contracts that have helped both sides work collaboratively. We've also been blessed by visionary leadership in the form of current superintendent Greg Upham as well as former superintendent Terry Bouck. Both of those men, coupled together with the teachers and staff, have created an amazingly friendly environment that has sought to innovate at the local level. 

We've supported and lobbied for this levy and it's time for a big thank you on behalf of students and the community. Once again, Billings and School District No. 2 have so many reasons to be proud.

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