Written by The Herald-News Saturday, 19 May 2012 13:19
About a hundred more voters cast ballots in Wolf Point school board mill levy elections last week than a year ago and an even wider percentage of voters rejected both mill levy increases despite a campaign surge by the school leaders in the final days leading up to the May 8 election.
Wolf Point School District 45 voters on May 8, and in prior absentee balloting, also overwhelming favored incumbent Janice Wemmer-Kegley in her match-up with former school board chairman Ron Jackson for an at-large, three-year seat on the Wolf Point School board.
Wemmer-Kegley received 396 votes, while Jackson garnered 168 votes.
The two mill levy requests, which Wolf Point School officials said were necessary to retain elementary programs and positions and also to renovate the junior/senior high school gym, were resoundingly defeated May 8 by voters residing in Wolf Point School Districts 45/45A.
A permanent 79.82 Wolf Point elementary general fund mill levy increase, which would have raised about $300,000 more in local property taxes beginning with the 2012-13 school year, was defeated by a 352-229 vote.
The 60.6 percent unfavorable results were very similar to last May’s vote on an Wolf Point elementary general fund mill levy, when 60.1 percent of voters opposed an elementary general fund mill levy that would have raised about $300,000 annually.
Voter turnout in Wolf Point School District 45 increased from 489 official tallies in May 2011 to 581 official votes last week.
Also on May 8, Wolf Point Districts 45/45A voters collectively rejected a single school year high school building reserve mill levy of 21.59 mills by a combined vote of 433-210.
The high school building reserve mill levy would have raised about $150,000 more in local property taxes for the 2012-13 school year to partially finance the replacement of the original gym floor and the installation of new bleachers in the gym.
The 67.3 percent unfavorable margin was even higher than in May 2011 when 60.5 percent of Wolf Point Districts 45/45A voters opposed a high school general fund budget mill levy increase that would have raised about $100,000 annually.
The high school building reserve mill levy was defeated this year by a 387-192 vote in Wolf Point School District 45 and rejected by a 46-18 vote in Wolf Point School District 45A, which is the high school district that encompasses both Wolf Point and Frontier elementary districts.
A total of 643 official ballots were cast by Wolf Point Districts 45/45A vot- ers last week, up from 534 official tallies in the May 2011 high school mill levy election.
Prior to last week’s mill levy elections, the Wolf Point School board in April approved a list of elementary programs and positions to cut if the elementary general fund mill levy increase failed.
The positions targeted for elimination include an elementary teacher at both Northside and Southside schools, the school district’s school resource officer, a district-wide career counselor, a family/school coordinator at Southside, a paraprofessional at Southside and elementary field trip drivers for Northside, Southside and the junior high school.
The programs the school board approved eliminating in the event of an unsuccessful elementary general fund mill levy were band at Northside, Montana Shakespeare, enrichment programs and the Missoula Children’s Theatre contract and stipend.
The school board also approved eliminating the Northside volleyball and boys’ and girls’ basketball programs if the permanent 79.82 elementary general fund mill levy increase failed. The proposed position and program cuts totaled $287,491.
Co-superintendents Eileen Karge and Joe Paine personally funded 49 radio spots on KVCK AM and FM between May 4 and 8, urging voters to support the school district’s mill levy elections.
Karge said May 9 it was time to turn the page and work on building public support for an elementary general fund mill levy increase next year.
“I am extremely disappointed, but the community has spoken,” Karge said. “I have not given up on this matter, nor have I given up on our community. I believe that community members are not well-informed about what we do in our schools and how our budget works. We will need to pass a levy for the elementary district in order to maintain our elementary schools. Thus, we will work on passing a levy next year.”
Wolf Point School board clerk Naomi Erickson said voters from the Frontier elementary district area did write in the names of some undeclared candidates for the three vacant Frontier area seats on the Wolf Point School board.
Erickson said she was in the process of contacting the write-ins to see if they were interested in serving on the school board.