Two opposing slates of candidates appeared to have split the vote among four races for Billings school board trustees Tuesday night.
Two candidates backed by the Billings Education Association, the district's largest teachers' union, are poised to win after early results, while two candidates backed by a conservative parent group, Moms For Liberty, are winning in the other two races.
Incumbents Tanya Ludwig and Janna Hafer are winning their races against respective challengers, Ken Ard and Starr Emery. Ludwig and Hafer were both endorsed by the teachers' union.
In the other two races, Moms for Liberty-based candidates Andrea Nemitz and Brooke Wagner were both defeating their opponents, Roger Santala and Brandi Seibel. Santala was an incumbent appointed in January, while Seibel was challenging for an open seat.
It's the second year in a row that dueling slates backed by interest groups have faced off in a Billings school board race. In 2022, one candidate backed by a mask-optional grassroots group, John VonLangen, defeated an incumbent, Brian Yates.
Here's the breakdown of votes from Tuesday's races:
Tanya Ludwig 678 votes, 60 percent
Ken Ard 441 votes, 39 percent
Janna Hafer 1,158 votes, 57 percent
Starr Emery 846 votes, 42 percent
Roger Santala 2,213 votes 49 percent
Andrea Nemitz 2,318 votes 51 percent
High school District B
Brandi Seibel 977 votes 30 percent
Brooke Wagner 2,212 votes, 69 percent
Here's a primer on the races:
District officials said the competitive races are left over from the battles over masks during the pandemic, but winning candidates need to put aside their differences for the good of the students.
"We’re worried about school shootings and school violence. I mean the pressures that are put on us from that and then all the externals that we’re caught in the crossfire of political issues is wearing us out and it’s frustrating," said Superintendent Greg Upham, who is retiring at the end of the school year.
Trustee Zack Terakedis, who was not up for election in his District 4 seat, said educators and board members are continuing to do hard work in Billings.
"Regardless of political spectrum, we’re all across it, we all show up to do work together and we have conversations that are valuable to getting problems solved and that’s what we hope for in this election. We have a ton of work that we need to do. In January alone we had 9 school board meetings, whether it's dealing with the budget or hiring a new superintendent or dealing with facilities, talking about levees or bonds. It’s a ton of work and we’re all volunteers," he said Tuesday before the results were announced.
In addition, several board races and bond measures were decided in other districts in Yellowstone County. Click here for the updated results.