Despite the recession, voters agreed Tuesday to raise property taxes for a surprising number of local school districts, including the Bozeman, Anderson, Ophir, Willow Creek, Amsterdam, West Yellowstone and Ennis school districts.
School tax levies failed in the Belgrade, Gallatin Gateway and Monforton districts.
"I am very pleased and proud and thankful to the community for supporting the children of this district," Bozeman School Board Chairman Gary Lusin said Wednesday. For many voters, he added, "It's still a difficult time, economically."
Asked what made the difference in the passage of Bozeman's school levies, Lusin said, "The difference really is a real supportive community that listens, and a school administration and staff that accurately communicates the financial situation of the district and the needs."
As a university town, Bozeman has a long history of supporting most school tax issues. Superintendent Kirk Miller also led a well-organized campaign to explain the need for the tax levies, speaking to more than 40 local school and civic groups, and won endorsements from the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chronicle's editorial board.
On Tuesday, Bozeman voters OK'd not only the annual tax increases that go into the general fund to help run the elementary and high schools, but also a special $1.5 million a year, six-year levy for building repairs and maintenance in the high school district.
That money will be used to repair leaky roofs on older wings at Bozeman High, fix cracked sidewalks, repair crumbling concrete at Willson School, and keep up Bozeman High's newly reconstructed north classroom building.
Bozeman's elementary general fund levy to raise $199,030 passed 4,686 to 2,562, or 65 percent approval.
In the larger Bozeman high school district, the high school general fund levy to raise $28,425 passed 5,375 to 3,100, or 63 percent approval.
The Bozeman high building levy passed 4,526 to 3,924, or 54 percent approval. A breakdown of voting showed the building tax losing by 500 to 716 votes in all the rural school districts that are part of Bozeman High, but winning in the larger Bozeman elementary district by 4,026 to 3,208 votes.
Turnout was just under 28 percent.
School officials told voters that even if all three tax increases passed, taxes would hold steady or decline slightly for the 85 percent of school voters in the Bozeman elementary district because older tax levies were expiring.
Miller announced Bozeman's unofficial vote tallies around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday. Charlotte Mills, Gallatin County clerk and recorder, released Belgrade's results at 12:30 a.m. The Chronicle posted those results on its website by 1:07 a.m.
Mills said the reason that the Bozeman and Belgrade vote counts weren't finished until after midnight was that her office had nearly 8,000 ballots to count by hand for Bozeman and the Big Sky Fire District.
Bozeman's ballots were originally going to be counted by electronic voting machines, Mills said, but Bozeman printed its ballots on regular copy paper, not the paper with special ink and timing marks that can run through vote-counting machines.
"I think an honest mistake was made," Mills said. Using cheaper paper, but more labor for hand-counting, she said, "did not save any money."
Miller said no mistake was made, and that it did save money to use the cheaper paper and count votes by hand. "This is just the best way to do it," he said.
Two incumbents running without opposition for two seats on the Bozeman School Board were re-elected. Bruce Grubbs received 5,102 votes and Susan MacGrath received 4,850 votes.
Here are results for other local school districts:
Belgrade School District: Two tax levies to help run the schools in the coming year failed. The vote on the $260,808 elementary general fund failed 1,876 to 2,311. The high school levy of $40,239 failed 2,040 to 2,211. With just three candidates seeking three seats on the School Board, all were elected: Dee Batey with 2,539 votes, Robert Marx with 2,644 votes and Peter Morgan with 2,644 votes.
Amsterdam School District: Voters passed a levy to raise $5,000 a year for five years for building repairs by a vote of 136 to 81. Two unchallenged candidates, John Fowler and Craig DeBoer, were elected to the School Board by acclamation.
Anderson School District: The general fund levy, $20,000, passed 194 to 147. Two candidates were elected to the School Board - Joe Long with 232 votes and Eugene Miceli with 175. Write-in candidate Jeff Baker fell short with 60 votes.
Gallatin Gateway School District: A general fund levy failed 156 to 181.
Gardiner School District: Voters elected two candidates to the School Board - Elizabeth Dreyer with 204 votes, and Todd Koel with 157 votes. They defeated Eric Robinson, 154 votes; Rob Stermitz, 131 votes; Holly Long 111 votes; and Kathy Cretella, 54 votes.
LaMotte School District: Two candidates, Ken Miller and Amy Allen, were elected by acclamation.
Manhattan School District: Voters re-elected to the School Board two candidates -- Brand Robinson with 300 votes and Robert Brownell with 263 votes - while Scott Lee fell short with 115 votes.
Monforton School District: Voters rejected a general fund levy of $53,918, 158 to 173. Three candidates were elected to the School Board: Sam Foster with 223 votes, Donald Akina with 208 and Alan Roos with 205 votes.
Ophir School District: Voters passed two tax increases. A general fund levy of $95,272 passed 298 to 146. A building reserve levy raising $84,350 a year for three years passed 297 to 148. Elected to three-year seats on the School Board were Loren Bough with 259 votes, and Laura S. Michel, 240 votes. Falling short were Sarah Wooldridge Blechta, 186 votes, and John Ruddick, 93 votes. Elected to a two-year term was Maggie Luchini with 262 votes, beating Brian Dolan with 137 votes.
Springhill School District: Incumbent Edward C. "Ted" Bryan, the only candidate, was re-elected by acclamation.
Three Forks School District: With only two incumbents seeking re-election to two seats, David Hamilton and Dale Kober, were elected by acclamation.
West Yellowstone School District: A levy to raise $9,589 passed by 154 to 86 votes. Rachael Burden was elected to the School Board with 79 votes, beating Sandi Peppler with 48 votes, Brad Loomis with 54 votes, Clinton Fowler and David Arnado, both with 28 votes.
Willow Creek School District: Both general fund levies passed. The elementary levy of $10,638 passed 26 to 21, and the high school levy of $12,498 passed 28 to 23. Wesley Crittenden, the only candidate for School Board, received 45 votes.
Ennis School District: A building reserve levy to raise $60,000 a year for five years passed 377 to 332. Two trustees seeking re-election, Jim McNally and Mike McKitrick, were elected by acclamation.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.