By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Four area legislators are spending today visiting classes and chatting with faculty and administrators in local schools as part of a visit organized by the Havre Education Association.
"I went to this school. My kid went this school," said Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, standing outside Sunnyside Intermediate School this morning after visiting two classes there.
"I think it's good to come and do these classroom-to-classroom types of activities ... to keep the faces on the numbers," Bergren said. "When we're cutting (budgets), who are we cutting and which kids are we affecting."
Sen. Ken Hansen, D-Harlem, Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, and Sen. John Tester, D-Big Sandy, also attended the session. The legislators were at Sunnyside and Highland Park Early Primary School this morning and were scheduled to visit Lincoln-McKinley at lunchtime and Havre High School and Havre Middle School this afternoon. They will also attend a community forum presented by HPS about the district's implementation of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's federal education law.
The forum, which is open to the public, will take place tonight in the auditorium of Havre High School from 7:30 to 8:30.
"We want to make sure they are familiar with a school environment," HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller said this morning, adding that the day gives the legislators a good chance to meet teachers and paraprofessionals.
Miller said local legislators will be involved both with helping make sure districts have the funding necessary to comply with No Child Left Behind and starting in 2005 will be voting on whether to approve legislation drafted by the state School Renewal Commission, a group of state educators and lawmakers meeting to try to improve education in Montana.
Miller said the session is not specifically tied to the district's efforts to get more funding.
"I see a visit like this more clearly fitting in with building a good relationship with local representatives," Miller said, adding that the lawmakers' willingness to spend a whole day at the schools demonstrates their commitment to education.
Both HEA representatives and the lawmakers said they are concerned with school funding.
"With all the turmoil with state funding and so forth, it was a good way to create some good conversation with legislators face to face and to give them an idea of what goes on in the schools," said HEA treasurer Terry Sather.
When asked if the Legislature did as much as it could to fund education last year, Bergren said, "I don't think they have. I think they could have done more."
Tester, who is the Senate minority leader, said the connection with students will be helpful for him when he goes back to Helena.
"It's kind of what the funding is all about," Tester said. "This is the fruit of the labors of the taxpayers," he said.
Tester said his visit today was not just about business.
"This is one of the fun things I do," said Tester, who added that as a former teacher, he is interested in seeing the interactions between teachers and students. "There's not a lot of pressure here. Young people have a lot of energy, and it's fun to be around the environment."
Musgrove is also a former teacher.
"In a lot of ways I think we have a situation here where we can see what the school system is doing and work toward improving it, of course," Musgrove said.
"We need to get the state funding up," he said.
At Sunnyside the lawmakers visited music classes, homeroom classes and the resource room used to help struggling students in reading and math.
After singing "This Land is Your Land" with the a class of fifth-graders, Hansen listened while a student read from a book.
"I'm really impressed with the caliber of teachers we have here," said Hansen, whose lapels displayed the campaign stickers of some of the students running in Sunnyside's student council elections.
Hansen said there are many aspects of No Child Left Behind he is not very familiar with, so the forum will be informational for him.