By Ron VandenBoom
Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction Bob Anderson told the North Montana Pachyderm Club Friday that more money will have to be spent on salaries if Montana is to get the kind of education system it wants.
Anderson, for 14 years the executive director of the Montana State School Board Association and a former teacher, principal and superintendent, made the comment to more than 30 guests and members attending Friday Pachyderm luncheon at 15 West.
He noted that as a Republican it hurt to have to say it, but salaries in Montana are just not competitive with other states.
"If we're going to be competitive in today's market for teachers, support staff and administrators, it's going to cost us more," Anderson said. "I don't think there's any doubt about that."
"I think it's going to be impossible to have the kind of system we want if we don't put some money into it," he told the crowd.
Anderson said that about 80 percent of every school district budget in Montana goes toward salaries and "if I were going to put the money into it, I guess I would put it into funding the very best I could find."
He added that he does not feel that money alone is the answer to fixing all of our education problems, he does feel that as a business persons, "that's a good investment."
"A really good investment for this states future," he said, noting that if we're going to have a stronger economy in Montana it's going to have to happen.
"The very basic building-blocks of any economy is a highly educated population," he said.
Other solutions Anderson recommended included cost cutting.
"There are ways to get the best bang for your buck," he said. "But we're going to have to look harder and we're going to have to find other ways to perform with the dollars we have."
He said he believes the local level is where the best results can be achieved and that building a bigger bureaucracy in Helena, or a bigger bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., is not the answer.
"I would rather those funds flow directly to school districts and let the state work with those school districts to provide better educational opportunities for students," Anderson said, adding that the state also needs to assist school districts with better technology.
Also of concern to Anderson is parental involvement in their childrens' education.
"We have to find some ways to work with parents," he told the crowd, noting that he is not sure how it could be accomplished. "In some cases, we need to work with parents just to understand how to discipline their children, so they do come to school ready to learn."
Also of concern to Anderson is the number of days per year students attend school. State law limits attendance to 180 days.
"It's pretty easy to convince the Legislature not to pay for more than 180 days," Anderson said. "But I don't think it has worked real well for students."
He told the crowd that most industrial nations that are surpassing us go beyond 180 days with some requiring students to attend as many as 220 days.
State law also limits to 28 hours the time teachers can spend with students and "that again has a limiting effect in terms of being able to work with students," he said.
Anderson noted that Montana has some very good schools, but he prefaced his remark by saying he believes "they're not good enough when better is an option."
"My campaign is about trying to make them the very best schools they can be," he said. "I think we have to find ways to challenge students at every level, more than they've ever been challenged before."