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Newcomer Haack, two incumbents elected to Bemidji School Board

BEMIDJI – Jeff Haack was feeling pretty confident when he went to bed at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. He woke up Wednesday to learn for certain that he secured a seat on the Bemidji school board.

“I’m looking forward to getting involved,” said Haack, a test engineer with Team Industries in Bagley. “It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I really don’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore.”

Haack, 32, was elected to the school board along with the re-election of incumbents Ann Long Voelkner and John Pugleasa. Each will serve a four-year term.

“I am just truly looking forward to this upcoming year and providing a great education for the kids,” said Long Voelkner, the school board chairwoman.

Pugleasa could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Seven candidates sought three seats on the school board. Long Voelkner led all candidates, receiving 22.0 percent of all votes cast. Second was Haack, who garnered 17.6 percent, followed by Pugleasa, who got 14.5 percent.

Paula DeClusin finished fourth, just behind Pugleasa, as she received 14.2 percent of the votes.

“I think our school district is strong and thriving and if it continues that way, it’s going to be great,” DeClusin said. “I just wanted to be part of it and be involved. I wasn’t hugely disappointed; I just wanted to help support our schools.”

Also running were candidates John Truedson, who got 13 percent of votes cast; Dana Kuzel, 12.0 percent; and Rob Warmboe, 6.4 percent.

Long Voelkner stayed up late, into the early-morning hours Wednesday watching election returns with her daughter, a high school senior. Later, after a few hours’ sleep, her family crowded around the radio, listening to local results on the radio.

“I told the kids this morning, that we were all standing around the radio when the kids were little, 12 years later, listening to the results,” Long Voelkner said, referencing when she first was elected to the board.

Haack said he went into Election Day feeling confident, but having never been through a campaign before, he didn’t know what to expect.

He won’t officially take office until January, but said he plans to attend school board meetings this year and spend the next weeks familiarizing himself with district issues.

“The overcrowding issue (in the elementary schools), I really want to get my head wrapped around that,” he said.

“It’s a joy to look at who is coming on the board and working with that individual, who has different ideas, new ideas,” Long Voelkner said. “We’ll be creating a board that works well together.”

Long Voelkner praised the work of current school board member Melvin “Gene” Dillon, who did not file for re-election this year. Dillon first joined the school board in 1982. He served until 1994 and then again from 2001 until now.

“He’s been an incredible contribution to the community as a board member,” she said. “He’s been such a valuable board member over all these years.”