Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
With the exception of the Libertarian candidate, most of the comments made by candidates for State Superintendent of Public Schools in Havre Wednesday were similar, with the emphasis primarily on each candidate’s experience. The forum, held during the annual meeting of the Montana Association of County Superintendents in Havre, brought Libertarian Donald Eisenmenger of Helena and Democrats Denise Juneau of Helena, Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow, Claudette Morton of Helena and Holly Raser of Missoula to answer five questions, presented at the forum, ranging from their opinion on the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind Act on Montana to their opinion on the role of the state superintendent in dealing with the state Legislature, and how they would address the state’s shortage of teachers and administrators. Elaine Solly Herman of Helena, the sole Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, declined attending the forum, saying she had just returned from a trip to China, said Phillips County Superintendent of Schools Vivian Taylor, who organized the annual meeting. Eisenmenger said his goal as superintendent would be to return most of the decision-making to the local level. While state and federal funds help run the schools, the strings attached to the funding reduce the quality of education, he said. “I think the best result in education comes from having more local control,” he said. He said that state control over who is allowed to teach is detrimental, and suggested eliminating licensing requirements for teachers and allowing the local administrators to decide who would be qualified to teach in the classrooms. Morton took issue with that idea. She said just because she has experience in dissection from years of working with the game bagged in hunting and fishing, that doesn’t mean she should become a surgeon. “By Donald’s reasoning I could be a doctor,” she said. The Democrats generally agreed that the way to improve the number of teachers and administrators in the state generally hinges on improving the Pay scale and benefits for the profession, with additional ideas on how to attract people from teaching to administrative positions and to bring e d u c a t o r s t o r u ra l Mo n ta n a . Eisenmenger disagreed on the main point. He said that while he supports raising the wages of educators and increasing the amount of money going to classroom education, “Bill Gates hasn’t given me $50 billion to do it.” Eisenmenger said there is a limited amount of money available. The Montana taxpayers, whom he said pay a larger portion of their income in taxes for public education than the national average, might not agree that they should pay more, he added. He suggested that if the level of administrative costs are reduced, that could free up more money to go to the local level. “It is really distressing to see how much money is spent on activities that are not educational,” he said. Wh i l e h e a g r e e d wi t h t h e Democratic candidates on some problems, Eisenmenger had different solutions. He said that the requirements of No Child Left Behind, in which schools generally need to meet requirements measured by standardized tests in order to receive federal funding, do not work in Montana. He said he doubts the federal requirements can be changed, however, and suggested that the best solution might be to do without the federal funding. “I think with increased efficiency, we can make up for lost funding,” Eisenmenger said. While each had different specific suggestions on how to address issues, the Democrats were generally in agreement on the problems: the federal requirements of No Child Left Behind do not work in Montana and the education act needs to be made more collaborative in its reauthorization; the funding process for education in Montana needs to be changed; and the solution to most of the problems, including the teacher and administrator shortage would primarily be through increased funding. The main focus in the forum was on the candidates’ experience. All candidates emphasized their experience in the classrooms. Eisenmenger pointed out he was the only candidate at the forum who has never been certified as a teacher and with Montana public education in general. Raser said that being the only Democrat currently teaching is a strong point in her favor. She has taught a t t h e Targe t Range Elementary School for 27 years. Kitzenberg, who first taught in Columbia Falls and retired from his position as an English teacher at Glasgow High School in 2004, now works for the state Department of Revenue in Glasgow. Morton taught as a substitute teacher in Missoula and Glasgow then taught English at Glasgow High School until she took a position with the state Office of Public Instruction. She has also taught as a professor or adjunct professor at universities in Minnesota and Montana. Raser cited her institutional knowledge of the Legislature as a strength of her campaign. Morton did the same with her experience in state government, citing her knowledge of legislative and state actions from her teaching career through her tenure with the Office of Public Instruction in the 1980s; her work as executive secretary to the state Board of Public Education; and her role in the creation of and as executive director of the Montana Small Schools Alliance. Juneau taught in North Dakota before returning to her alma mater of Browning High School, where she taught until taking a position at OPI. She i s now di rector of Indian Education at OPI. Juneau also cited her experience on the OPI team negotiating with legislators on education budgets during the legislative session as a strength she would bring to the position. Both Kitzenberg and Raser also cited their experience as state legislators Raser is an eight-year veteran of the House of Representatives. She cannot run for re-election due to term limits. Kitzenberg served six years as a state representative and is ending his tenure as a state senator after eight years. He also cannot run for re-election due to term limits.