By Ross Markman
The otherwise empty halls of Robins School echoed with the sounds of Ric Floren's footsteps. It was 7:45 Tuesday night and 15 minutes until polls closed.
At the time, the turnout was 19.7 percent, Floren said an unusually high rate for a Havre Public Schools election. And, he said, 200 votes had yet to be counted.
An hour later, the counting was complete. Three candidates incumbents Teresa Miller and Denise Thompson, and new trustee Joe Marino were voted to the Havre school board. And perhaps most significantly, a mill levy promising a boost of more than $240,000 to the district's general fund was approved by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
By 9:30, Floren reported a turnout of more than 21 percent. Typically, it's somewhere between 12 and 14 percent, he said.
"The dollars we get from the mill levy generate everything we do," district Superintendent Kirk Miller said.
"The turnout is better than it has been in many years. I guess I would characterize that by the six quality individuals vying for the board," he added. "And the community was concerned about the issues."
Of the 5,580 registered voters in Elementary District 16 and High School District A, 1,185 votes were cast. Marino led the trustee election with 686 votes, followed by Miller with 663, Thompson with 627, Cheryl Carlson with 544, Gus Sharp with 446 and Kevann Elletson with 328.
The mill levy in District 16 for $167,741 passed by a 782-392 vote, while in District A the levy for $76,137 passed by a 769-423 margin.
"People are becoming more aware of the financial issues and they are still worried about education," Teresa Miller said. "But it worries me to see the no vote so high on the high school level. Why do we have so many saying no?"
Miller, a 50-year-old sales associate at Herberger's, said her victory wasn't much of a surprise.
"Not to sound conceited. Incumbents just always seem to have a good chance. It's kind of name recognition," said Miller, who will start a third three-year term on the board.
Thompson, 46, returns for a second term. She credited public interest in the mill levy as the reason for the high turnout.
"I think maybe people had more awareness. Kirk's talked to everybody," she said.
"I'm glad (the election) is over," Thompson added. "It's an important job and it's time to go back to work."
Despite not joining the school board, Sharp and Elletson said they would remain active in the district and would likely run again.
"I think everybody needs to stay involved," Sharp said. "And yeah, I'd probably run again."
Elletson was encouraged with the number of people who voted.
"Twenty-some percent. That's awesome. That was one of the goals I had to get people interested," she said. "My attitude was: If I'm on the school board, great. If I'm not, the same thing applies."
Carlson did not attend Tuesday's reception and could not be reached for comment today.
The third winner, Marino, a 45-year-old Havre podiatrist, was also unable to make the reception. He was attending the high school play.
"I am very excited to join the board," he said today. "(The turnout) tells me that probably the mill levy is the hot issue. It overwhelmingly was supported and that's great."
Marino will meet with Kirk Miller tomorrow to discuss his role on the board. One of his objectives, he said, is to find additional funding for the district, and move Montana teacher salaries, ranked 47th in the nation, out of the basement.
"The first thing I'm going to do now is go find out who is 48th and 49th in the nation," he said, laughing, "and steal their teachers.
Havre Public Schools (3 vacant seats):
Mill levy in Elementary District 16 for $167,741 passed by a 782-392 vote; in High School District A, levy was passed for $76,137 by a 769-423 vote.
Davey Elementary School District (1 vacant seat):
Fred Davey, 13 votes
Mill levy for $10,275 passed by a 12-1 vote.
Blue Sky Schools (2 vacant seats):
Mill levy passed for $76,468 by a 111-37 vote.
J-I Public Schools (2 vacant seats):
Mill levy passed for $274,651 by a 149-71 vote.
Cottonwood Elementary School District: (1 vacant seat):
Kim Faechner, 44 votes.
Mill levy passed for $9,286 by a 31-14 vote.
Box Elder Schools: (2 vacant seats): No election held.
Incumbents Joseph Rosette Jr. and Tammy Houle will fill two seats. No mill levy election.
Rocky Boy Schools: (2 vacant seats):
Russell T. Gopher,
Debbie St. Pierre,
Peggy (Meyers) Standing Rock, 68
Jonathan "Jay" Eagleman,
Harriet Standing Rock,
Direk P. Small Sr.,
Warren Paul Small,
Roger Decora Sr.,
Stacey Rob Small,
Joe Big Knife,
Mill levy was passed by an 11-5 vote.
KG Schools (1 vacant seat):
Elementary mill levy for $33,500 passed by a 125-19 vote.
High school mill levy for $33,801 passed by a 156-15 vote.