All five candidates voters elected to the Missoula County Public Schools board on Tuesday were endorsed by the union representing district teachers and classified staff.
For Melanie Charlson, the support from voters speaks volumes.
“Early on, MEA-MFT made a clear decision to work toward electing candidates to the board who are interested in clear communication, transparency in board decision-making and who are folks who will ask tough questions with teachers, staff and administrators,” said Charlson, president of Missoula’s teachers union. “I think people heard that loud and clear.”
“We are also very pleased that the technology levies passed,” she said. “It was nearly a 50-50 split, and that let me know that we need to continue opening communications with the community.
“How the votes played out was a real eye-opener.”
Voters said yes to the MCPS elementary school technology levy by a 7,267 to 5,811 count, and yes to the high school levy 11,282 to 9,902.
That 2,000 voters walked their ballots into the election office or left them at an official dropoff location Tuesday, and another 2,100 voters mailed ballots that were received Tuesday is something Forward Montana feels it had a hand in.
“We feel like we made a real difference in this election, and that is really exciting,” said Kayje Booker, interim executive for the Forward Montana Foundation, a group that works to engage young people in politics.
“We did a pro-technology levy campaign this spring,” she said Wednesday. “We engaged 64 volunteers, knocked on 3,024 doors, and we ended up making 1,317 phone calls. And because we have a new high school program where we go into the schools and work with students, we had high school students coming out with us and telling people how important the technology levies are.”
On Sunday and Monday leading up to the election, Forward Montana went out canvassing, knocking on doors, making phone calls, intent on convincing voters to support the levies.
The voting, Booker said, “was super close and we were concerned right up until we got the final election numbers.”
All three of the incumbents who lost their school board seats Tuesday – Scott Bixler, Joe Toth and Drake Lemm – said they, too, were relieved that the technology levies passed.
“It’s a great thing for Missoula and a great thing for our kids,” Bixler said. “It’s what we need to keep our technology in place and updated on an appropriate schedule.”
“We really need the technology levy, and getting that passed was more important to me than my position on the board,” Lemm said.
All of the candidates said they wish the five new trustees – Michael Beers, Diane Lorenzen, Julie Tompkins, Rose Dickson and Ann Wake – the best of luck.
“I’ll miss being on the board and the work that we do and the people we work with,” Bixler said. “But the new board will move forward and all of the new trustees, I’m sure, will do a wonderful job.
“It will be a steep learning curve, however, and I know they don’t understand the time commitment it will take, because I don’t think any of us did when we came onto the board.
“When you have a passion for this work it does become all-consuming – and I will definitely miss it.”
The election results made it obvious that voters wanted a new perspective on the board, Toth said.
“Whether that had to do with the recent brouhaha over (MCPS superintendent) Dr. (Alex) Apostle’s raise, and sometimes people want a change for whatever reasons, it is clear the voters voted for change,” he said. “But I’m worried about some of our programs. I hope there is not a loss, no inertia with some of these programs so that they can continue moving forward.”
Lemm echoed Toth’s concerns, even though the two trustees often voted differently on board decisions.
Lemm said he wanted to stay on the board to help keep the International Baccalaureate program, the Health Sciences Academy and the language immersion curriculum moving forward.
“I’m discouraged because the board members who got voted off have been instrumental in these efforts,” Lemm said. “As a school district, we are trying to compete not just nationally, but internationally. We are behind in some curriculum areas, but have been making great strides in that area to improve things.”
“Most people do not realize what great strides this district has put forth in the last five years – it’s been huge,” he said. “We’ve become the leading district in the state and the envy of our state because of what we are doing, what our superintendent is doing, and most people don’t realize that.”