BILLINGS - Elder Grove showed off its brand new middle school to staff Wednesday, a building the district says will allow it to grow with its rising population demographic. Now, the district is asking for additional funds to fill the building with resources that will provide students with the same opportunities as its School District 2 neighbors.
School District 8, which houses Elder Grove, is holding a community forum Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the new middle school gym to offer information and answer questions about the $599,000 levy proposal, slated for a July 7 ballot. That number is 73% of the maximum levy the district is allowed to ask for.
"We're incredibly responsible with our finances," said Elder Grove Superintendent Nathan Schmitz. "We went through and calculated what we needed, and we only asked for that. Knowing that we haven't had an increase to the local contribution in 33 years, we didn't want to be exorbitant in our ask."
School District 8 voters haven't passed a school levy since 1987. The most recent attempt failed in 2015, 54-46%. Voters did pass a $14.9 million bond in December 2017 that paid for the new middle school, by a 52-47% margin.
Middle school principal Mike Rice believes it's a matter of informing the voters.
"I think the only negative out there is the lack of information, bond vs. levy," Rice said. "When I started teaching, I couldn't even tell you the specifics. That's why we're going to get people in the building and answer those questions."
In general terms, bonds pay for buildings and new facilities while levies pay for educational programs and day-to-day operations of schools.
Elder Grove officials say this levy will focus on additional elective class offerings that will prepare students to get jobs in trade industries.
"We're looking at a metals lab, a wood lab, a ceramics opportunity," Rice said. "Things that, with our industrial arts program, could provide kids the opportunity to get jobs in high school because of their experience here with that elective."
"The reality that we want to create in this middle school is to create tomorrow's tradesmen today," Schmitz added. "This levy would give us that opportunity and so many more to advance our students' futures."
A community survey noted the additional electives as a key in giving Elder Grove students the same opportunities as School District 2 students.
"We asked, 'What are your asks?' And they want the same opportunity that a kid that goes to Ben Steele gets," Rice said. "We can provide that with our core classes - we have a great staff and a great educational record - but with some of those electives, we just can't offer those."
Rice also noted the additional offerings would also shrink class sizes, a rising concern.
"In the three years I've been, it's been increasingly noticeable each year," Rice said. "We had the one hallway (at the original school). We operated successfully, but with the growth out here, even beyond bodies, we just need some added budgetary help."