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Voters opt to not rock the board

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In a Missoula school board election marked by a typically low voter turnout, divided loyalties and campaign spending that jumped 200 to 300 percent from just three years ago, Missoulians voted to elect Jenda Cummings and re-elect incumbent Barb Seekins as trustees to the Missoula County School Board, defeating newcomers Olan “Bubba” Alsup and Colleen Rogers. The results (unofficial as of press time) will likely maintain the status quo on the often divided board.

Cummings, who served as a trustee from 1996-99, replaces outgoing trustee Greg Tollefson, who chose not to run for re-election this year. High school trustees Joyce Easter from the Hellgate Elementary district and James Sadler from the Target Range and Bonner district ran unopposed for second terms.

“I don’t know that the results will change much the way business will be done on the board,” Seekins said the morning after the election. “I think it’s pretty clear that the community is divided. I don’t know what that means for the future. We have to figure out what we can do to continue working here.”

Cummings could not be reached for comment.

Voter turnout on Tuesday was a paltry 17 percent, up just one percent from a year ago.

Also approved this week was a levy for the high school budget for $62,019 that increases the taxes on a home valued at $100,000 by $1.85 per year. Also on the ballot was an increase in the transportation and adult education budgets for both the elementary and high schools, which was approved. The increase was necessary to cover such expenses as the new bus routes added after the closure of Emma Dickinson and Roosevelt schools, as well as higher gasoline costs. Yearly taxes on a home valued at $100,000 will increase $10.50 for the elementary budget and $3.75 for the high school budget.

Despite the experience of the elected trustees, the new board faces some difficult challenges ahead, most notably, a budgetary shortfall at the elementary and secondary levels of more than $900,000, which will likely result in 20 lost teaching positions on top of the 29 teachers already retiring. Both the school board and administration have come under fire in recent weeks for the proposed budget, which includes several cuts in programming but none in administration.

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