By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
This Story originally appeared on Tuesday, April 27, 2004.
Editor's note: This is the second of four profiles of candidates running for two seats on the Havre school board.
Drawing on a wide variety of experiences - from studying theology in Milwaukee, to teaching school and coaching in Hays, to working construction on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation - school board candidate Mike Ley approaches education issues with a mix of principle and practicality.
"My attitude is that I believe in the absolute dignity of every person, so that prevails in all my dealings with people whether it be school board members, parents, teachers, administrators ," Ley said in a recent interview.
The former Catholic priest, whose job is helping area high school students better define their career interests, describes himself as "very practical, honest and fiscally conservative."
"I think we need to look at how the dollars are spent, how they're spent for the most efficiency," Ley said. At this point, he said he doesn't know if that means cutting the district's budget. But he does have a clear idea of his priorities if cuts are to be made.
"High quality academics must have to take precedence over all the other ways that our money is spent," he said. Providing high quality academics includes providing adequate teacher salaries, he said.
"I look at the salary that's being offered and I think, 'Oh gosh, how are they going to find a quality person?'" Ley said. Base salary for a new teacher this year is $22,596.
If the choice were between paying for band uniforms and sports equipment or funding adequate teachers' salaries to ensure students have a good science background, Ley said, he would fund the salaries.
Ley may stress the bottom line in the district's finances, but when it comes to students, he is concerned with the less tangible aspects of education. At a school board candidate forum Child
Thursday, Ley stressed the importance of fostering creativity in children.
"I believe that students want to learn and want to be creative, and given the proper environment, they will create and they will learn," he said in an interview.
Ley said his background as a priest would not affect his views as a school board member, and called it a "nonissue." Ley left the priesthood after four years in 1988 to get married.
He said he believes firmly in the division of church and state, and would not attempt to impose faith-based education at HPS.
A similar issue arose at the candidate forum, when all candidates were asked their views about teaching creationism in Havre Public Schools. Ley said that if it is taught, it should be taught as a religious belief, not as science.
He said he decided to send his two sons to St. Jude Thaddeus School because of the small classes and the fact that faith and morals are "intertwined with the entire curriculum" there.
The fact that his children don't attend Havre Public Schools should not deter voters, he added.
His sons will be attending HPS in the future, he said, and besides that, he lives in the school district and helps support it.
"It's an issue of being a resident of the area," Ley said. "My tax dollars support the Havre public school system."
He said his decision to run was based on the fact that he is "a very community-minded person" who likes to give his time to a variety of organizations and wants to be involved in the next stage of his children's lives.
"I just believe in giving time to the community, and that's a meaningful way of giving my time," he said. "I'm not coming in with an agenda."
He wants to ensure that the board is willing to listen to students, parents, faculty and administration. But he said he does not share school board candidate Bonnie Benson's opinion that the administration is unresponsive to comments and complaints from the community.
Here is a brief breakdown of Ley's positions on some of the issues that have come before the Havre school board in the past year.
Ley said that in principal, at least, he supports No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education law.
"I think the need to make some changes in the public school system to be able to reach all the students is a good idea," he said. But he said it is difficult to have one policy in a nation that is so culturally and economically diverse.
He said he supports giving states more say in defining the law's expectations.
Regarding the lawsuit Havre joined to force the state Legislature to spend more on public education, Ley said he doesn't believe public education is funded adequately in Montana, but said that is because the state is "broke" and can't appropriate the money.
In most cases, he said, lawsuits are a "last resort" and suggest a communication breakdown.
"I would like to improve the communication, the dialogue between all parties so issues don't reach the lawsuit stage," Ley said.
Ley said he probably would not support the addition of varsity sports like girls softball and boys cross country.
He said one of his concerns is with the amount of time sports take up in the school week. He also said the city sponsors a softball league.
"If the city is offering a sport, which they do ... I don't see why the high school needs to give kids what the city is already offering," he said.
Ley said he supports HPS's recent efforts to increase cultural awareness in its schools, particularly through its Indian education program.
"I think the school district needs to be extremely sensitive to the variations in cultures within our community," he said.
When asked what the school district should do to narrow the gap between the graduation rates of Native American and white students, he said the district should "constantly evaluate its style of education." The bottom line, he said, is making sure schools provide a "fertile environment for learning."
But Ley also said he believes there are factors that influence the graduation rate that are not within the district's control, like home environment and family stability. Also, he said, the district has no control over the preparedness of students who transfer into HPS from other schools.
About 57 percent of American Indian seniors who began the 2000-2001 school year at Havre High School graduated, compared with about 91 percent of white seniors, according to statistics compiled by the district. In 1999-2000, 76 percent of American Indian seniors graduated compared with about 97 percent of whites.
Ley said he does not know enough about the issue to decide whether he supports the board's refusal to approve publicly funded schools for two local Hutterite colonies.
On the issue of whether to encourage larger, more efficient schools or defend the right of parents to choose to send their children to small schools, Ley comes down on the side of parental choice.
"I think it's very very important that the parents and the students of the outlying schools ... that their ideas, their thoughts, their feelings be entertained," he said.
Ley, who lives 16 miles south of town, said his boys ride the school bus for a total of about 90 minutes a day. How much time students spend traveling from place to place needs to be considered when the issue of consolidation is discussed, he said.
Birthplace: Fort Wayne, Ind.
Education: Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, 1969; bachelor's degree in philosophy, 1980, St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, Wis.; master's of divinity, St. Francis Seminary, 1984.
Employment: home construction, 1969-1976; industrial arts teacher and basketball coach, St. Paul's Mission School, Hays, 1976-1978; Catholic priest, St. Leo's Catholic Church, Lewistown, 1984-1988; counselor, Rocky Boy High School, 1988-1991; site coordinator for the federally funded Educational Opportunities Center at Montana State University-Northern and Stone Child
Marital status: married
Children: Phillip, 11, Miguel, 9; both attend St. Jude Thaddeus School
Military background: U.S. Army, 1970-1972; served in Vietnam, 1971-1972.
Activities: Little League coach; hunter safety teacher; active member of Rocky Boy Catholic Church; member of Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department board.