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Billings School District to float $1.6 million elementary levy on May 5 ballot

Posted at 7:11 PM, Feb 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-25 21:11:15-05

BILLINGS — A $1.6 million mill levy for the Billings elementary schools will be on the ballot May 5, School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham announced at a Monday night board meeting.

Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters April 17.

The levy would partially fill an expected $3.4 million shortfall in the elementary K-8 school budget.

The district has proposed cutting 40 full-time positions across the elementary schools including music teachers and reading interventionists. If the levy is approved, district say they would still likely need to make these cuts to shore up the budget hole.

Upham said the district hasn't made a final decision on those cuts. The board will know more on March 1 when it will get information on how many teachers are retiring.

The deficit in the elementary schools budget used to total $4.5 million. School Board Clerk Craig VanNice said board staff "fine tuned" the budget heading into negotiations with the teachers union to shrink the deficit to $3.4 million.

"If we had kept everything status quo... at the end of the summer time, we were on track for a $4.5 million deficit at that point," VanNice said.

Upham said his team is working on a social media campaign, similar to the 2019 high school levy, to tell voters why the district needs the money. That measure was the first high school levy in Billings to pass in 12 years.

“I’m optimistic and excited to get back out there and visit with our community," Upham said.

Upham said he is in conversations with other class AA superintendents across the state to lobby the Montana Legislature about changing how large districts are funded.

“I’m not looking to call out anybody or anything with this. I just think that as we look at our budget situation, we need to look within our own budget, but also statewide for any supports or changes that we may see in the future that could support us in the issues that we are dealing with," Upham said.

About 80 percent of the elementary schools general fund comes from the state, based on enrollment numbers. The other 20 percent comes from local taxpayers.