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Newcomer, 2 incumbents elected to Bemidji School Board

The Bemidji School District's Board of Education will soon welcome a newcomer to the table.

Melissa Bahr will join incumbents Carol L. Johnson and Richard (Bill) Faver in filling three four-year, at-large positions on the school board.

According to the Secretary of State website, Carol Johnson received 5,270 votes, Bahr received 5,160 votes and Faver received 5,154 votes, as of Wednesday.

Incumbent Steven H. Johnson was next with 4,837 votes, followed by Fulton Gallagher with 4,700, Melissa Fitzgerald with 2,386, Laura K. Rock with 1,942 and Bonnie J. Rock with 1,653.

Carol Johnson

Carol Johnson, 52, said she was up until the "wee hours of the morning" Wednesday waiting to see the results of the election.

Johnson has been on the school board for six years. She has lived in Bemidji for more than 30 years and is married to Ron Johnson. They have one child who is a graduate of Bemidji High School.

"I'm very pleased," she said about winning a spot on the school board. "I want to thank the voters for their support."

Johnson said she believes someone with experience and dedication on the board is valuable in challenging times.

"I appreciate being acknowledged. I will continue to be a dedicated board member, a responsibility I take very seriously," she said.

When asked about her personal goals as a continuing board member, Johnson said they will be "getting a handle" on the increased student enrollment and taking a closer look at a school facility study.

Johnson said she was initially sad to see Steve Johnson was not re-elected to the board.

"I think experience is very valuable, but we certainly welcome (Bahr) and her fresh ideas. She's a young mom and has younger children just beginning their experience in district."

Johnson is employed at Ken K. Thompson Jewelry in Bemidji and is also an independent piano teacher.

Melissa Bahr

Bahr, 33, said the time she spent picking up her campaign signs Wednesday morning from around town was worth being elected to the school board.

Bahr, a lifelong resident of Bemidji, is married to Rance Bahr, who is a teacher and wrestling coach at BHS. They have three children, two of whom are students in the Bemidji School District.

"I was excited," Bahr said. "When I looked at the tallies, I said to my husband, 'I don't even know 5,000 people.' I want to thank all the people who voted for me."

When asked why she thought she was elected, Bahr said she felt concerned parents and teachers could relate to her.

"I talked to a teacher after the high school forum about the idea of moving the eighth grade up to the high school," she said. "She said my idea to keep the kids in their pods was a good idea. I think on some levels I'm new, but I approach things from a different view."

She said her priority to make sure Bemidji School District students receive the same opportunities as other children will remain unchanged.

Bahr said she will spend her first weeks as a board member getting to know the other board members and learning how the board operates.

"I want to know everyone and know the routine," she said. "If we do end up rearranging schools, I would be involved in that process. I also want to make sure class sizes stay down."

Bahr is currently employed as a nurse with North County Health Services.

Bill Faver

Faver, 51, said he woke up early Wednesday morning and saw the school board election results looked "really close."

Faver has been on the Bemidji School Board eight of the last 10 years. He and his wife, Kathy Faver, have two children. One is a graduate of BHS and the other is currently a student in the Bemidji School District.

"I haven't had that feeling yet that the results are settled," he said early Wednesday.

Faver said he is grateful for the community's support in electing him.

"I am going to try to work really diligently to communicate to the public and to involve the community in whatever decisions for the next years. It will be a priority for me to connect with people," Faver said.

When asked his thoughts on incumbent Steven Johnson not being re-elected to the board, Faver said he will miss him.

"It's a change," he said. "It's always sad when there's a transition like that and you lose a valued board member. Even when he is a dissenting voice, he lets it go and continues to work as a team."

Faver said newly elected Bahr seems "energetic and wants to be invested."

Faver said if he is chosen as the school board chairman in January, he will spend the next couple of months clarifying what he wants to do in that role.

Faver is employed as a psychologist with North Homes, Inc. in Bemidji.

Other reactions

Steve Johnson said after checking the results early Wednesday morning, he did not sleep the rest of the night knowing he might not be re-elected.

"I was surprised, but after thinking about it, maybe having been on it for eight years, I always voted exactly the way I felt," he said. "I think you create enemies. You lose votes when you make a stand."

Johnson has been a longtime opponent of allowing charter school students to use school district facilities and having four-period school days.

"I lost votes there I think," Johnson said. "I don't regret running, though. I did the best I could and made the right decisions for kids."

Thinking back to his election campaign, Johnson said he thought maybe he should have added more yard signs or purchased ads in the newspaper.

"Maybe I should have been a little more political, but I didn't do that," Johnson said. "I sure appreciated everyone who did vote for me."

When asked how he felt about newcomer Bahr being elected, Johnson said he thought she will do well and the board will not know what to expect from her.

"I think she's a good person. I think she has a mind of her own and supports athletics," Johnson said. "Whether she can do some of things she said she would do might be tough to do. Supporting charter school students playing in district sports will hurt our extra-curricular programs."

In the future, Johnson said he thinks his absence from the board will have an effect on the decisions made by the board.

"I've always pushed on the charter school thing," he said. "I always was critical of the best use of money and I'm not so sure there will be any of that anymore."

Johnson said he was disappointed the school district did not have a primary election with so many candidates running for the school board seats.

Looking forward, Johnson said he will always be interested in school district issues and will continue to support athletics.

"I will always be a Lumberjack," he said.

Gallagher said he thought he would win, but was disappointed when he heard the results Wednesday morning.

He offered some ideas as to why he thought he was not elected.

"Maybe (the voters) didn't care to have someone from the university on the local school board," Gallagher said. "I'm thinking maybe my background hurt me in that sense."

Gallagher said he was not yet sure what he would do in the future, as far as his involvement in the school district.

"I was looking forward to serving on the board, but now I'm that I'm not, I haven't really had a have chance to think about it. I'm just looking at some numbers, and what my strengths and weaknesses were, and go from that. I have no future plans at this time.

Laura Rock said she was surprised and disappointed she was not elected to the school board, but pleased to see Bahr was elected.

"I'm glad there was a new person on the board who has kids in school," Rock said. "She's very involved and engaged. I support her in that."

Rock said she is thankful for having been given the opportunity to talk about why she wanted to run for school board.

In hindsight, Rock said, she might have run her campaign differently.

"I tried to run a more 'green' campaign using word-of-mouth," Rock said. "I'm not a politician. I was advised to purchase signs and have them out, but I had people call me up and thank me for not putting out signs. I probably should've done things more politically."

When asked about incumbents Carol Johnson and Faver being re-elected to the board, she said Johnson is actively engaged as a school board member. However, she said she hoped someone new would have filled Faver's seat.

"We need change," she said. "We need people with new ideas, fresh faces and parents who are facing things today," she said.

In the future, Rock said she will continue to be an involved community member and an advocate for kids. She did not say whether or not she would run for school board again in the future, but thanked the voters for their support.

Melissa Fitzgerald and Bonnie Rock could not be reached.