Associated Press and Missoulian
HELENA - A surprising number of school mill levies and bond issues went down to defeat in Tuesday's elections around the state, but Montana voters generally approved money for their public schools.
Levies in the millions of dollars got generally comfortable margins of approval in the bigger cities, including Billings, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls and Bozeman.
Preliminary reports to the Montana School Boards Association showed voters rejected 23 of 169 levies that were offered. About 200 levies were on ballots statewide.
The 86.4 percent approval rate was lower than the 95 percent success reported for school levies in May 2000, said Lance Melton, executive director of the association.
He attributed the decline to misunderstanding about the level of state funding provided by the 2001 Legislature.
Many reports characterized the lawmakers as giving a $32 million increase in state aid, but that was not the case, and voters may have been misled into thinking that schools did not need the tax increases being requested, he said. The amount of state funding just made up for the automatic decline in state support that occurred because of declining enrollments, he said.
Most of the rejections were in small, rural districts, mainly in the western half of the state.
In the eastern half of the state, levies in Havre, Shelby, Miles City, Sidney, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Glasgow and Baker all passed. A $40,000 levy for Miles Community College in Miles City also was approved.
Flathead Valley voters were especially unsympathetic to mill levy requests.
The biggest district with a defeat was Kalispell, where voters rejected the Flathead High School district levy 57 percent to 43 percent.
"Tomorrow we go to the chopping block," Kalispell Superintendent Harry Amend said.
A separate elementary mill levy in Kalispell passed, while both of Columbia Falls' levies failed.
A lot of school officials and boards around the state were facing the same prospect of having to cut their proposed budgets - and teaching jobs - for next year.
The Flathead Valley had the heaviest voter turnout in recent years, and only one rural district, Fair-Mont-Egan, won approval of its levy proposal.
Kalispell-area levies also failed in West Valley, Swan River, Helena Flats, Evergreen, Marion and Olney/Bissell.
Only about 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Kalispell's school election last year. The turnout for Tuesday may have topped 30 percent, according to the county election department.
"That's an unbelievable increase," Amend said. It may have been spurred by a widely unpopular ballot measure to create a countywide water district.
Voters in East Helena, hard hit by the closure of the Asarco smelter this spring, rejected both their proposed levies for the high school and elementary schools.
However, economic problems were not a controlling factor everywhere. In Butte, staggered by the closure of the Montana Resources Inc. mine and other layoffs, both elementary and high school levies passed by wide margins.
Voters in Hamilton said no to both a $253,314 mill levy and a $273,340 building reserve request.
In south-central Montana, both the high school and elementary levies failed at Gardiner, Livingston and Gallatin Gateway.
In southwestern Montana, Sheridan voters turned down both high school and elementary levies.
Here are more details about elections in Ravalli and Flathead counties:
Ravalli County school districts went two-for-four in gaining approval for funding Tuesday, with Stevensville voters approving two measures and Hamilton voters saying no to a pair of requests.
In Stevensville, where results weren't available until Wednesday morning, voters approved a $235,820 mill levy request by a count of 334-271. A high school request to raise $84,792 for school operations was approved by 33 votes, 395-362.
Down the road in Hamilton, however, voters turned down a mill levy request and a building reserve plea by about 100 votes each. The Hamilton request to raise $253,314 for operating funds failed by a count of 635-539. A $273,340 request to raise money for school building projects also went down, 638-536.
Superintendent Duane Lyons said prior to the election that if the mill levy didn't pass, reductions would have to be made in staffing and extracurricular activities and that class sizes would increase.
In the Stevensville School board race, newcomers Greg Chilcott, with 438 votes, and Rita Tate, with 264 votes, captured the two open trustee positions. Neil Packer, with 242 votes, and Chris Welters, with 118, finished third and fourth, respectively.
Florence-Carlton voters elected two new trustees to seats on the school board. Denise Person, with 196 votes, and Lonnie Wallace, with 159 votes captured the two open seats. Incumbent Shari Edwards finished a close third with 153 votes and B. T. Lubinski came fourth with 117.
Hamilton voters were not offered a choice in school board candidates with incumbents Susan Senn and Roy Grant being the only names on the ballot. Senn earned 825 votes and Grant tallied 746.
In Victor, new candidates Michael Helling, with 142 votes, and Sherri William Gaudin, with 139, easily outdistanced Jon Wemple, who had 54 votes, in the race for two seats.
School board races in the Lone Rock, Corvallis and Darby school districts were uncontested, with winners appointed through acclamation.
Appointed to the board in Lone Rock were Ryan Brewer and Lucy Stevenson.
In Corvallis, incumbents Tonia Bloom and Bruce Huls were returned to their seats.
And in Darby, newcomers Ronnie Richter and Gina Schallenberger grabbed the three-year terms.
Gary Jahrig, Missoulian
In Tuesday's school election, voters in the Kalispell area passed a levy for elementary School District 5, but defeated a levy request for Flathead High School.
The complete tally of votes was unavailable until Wednesday morning.
The Kalispell School District 5 levy requesting $240,891 passed by 74 votes, 1,375 to 1,301. Voters defeated a levy request of $321,536 for Flathead High School by a vote of 3,606 against, to 2,676 for the levy.
Flathead voters elected John D. Engerbretson and Mark Holston to fill two three-year positions on the Flathead Valley Community College Board of Trustees. Engerbretson received 2,864 votes and Holston got 2,297. They defeated three other candidates, Rae Hollingsworth, who had 852 votes; Kristian Jackola , with 2,025 votes; and Keith Robinson, with 1,511 votes.
Other late election results for Flathead County include:
Helena Flats District 15 voters defeated an elementary school levy request for $47,641, 140-125. Voters elected William Leininger to one three-year term on the board of trustees.
Kila District 20 voters elected Don Shrader (177 votes) and Randy Oakason (171 votes) to three year terms on the board of trustees. Along with Somers District 29, voters also elected William Sutton as a three-year representative on the Flathead High School Board. Sutton defeated Muffy Thomson 509 votes to 226.
Somers District 29 voters elected Dan Brosten and Rudy Heinle to three-year terms on the board of trustees. Brosten received 383 votes and Heinle got 254. Candidates Keith Koslosky got 69 votes, and Toren McCarthy got 163.
Marion District 54 voters elected Sarah Severson and Jill Sargent to three-year terms on the board of trustees. Voters defeated an elementary school levy request of $19,692 by a vote of 98-73.
Bigfork District 38 voters passed a Bigfork High School levy of $124,778 by a vote of 539-444.
Whitefish District 44 voters elected Patricia Jarvi and David Kauffman to three-year terms on the board of trustees. Jarvi received 911 votes and Kauffman 720. Candidates Ronald Matelich had 604 votes and Bonnie Baker had 494. Voters passed an elementary school levy of $208,267, 851-759. Voters also passed a high school levy of $141,843 856-782.
John Stromnes, Missoulian