By Ron VandenBoom
Wayne Buchanan, executive secretary of the Montana Board of Public Education and a Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, told the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club Friday that government bureaucracy is stifling education in Montana and discipline needs to be improved.
Buchanan held up a large volume of Montana statutes pertaining to the running of schools and told the Pachyderms "if you know the criminal code, it's not anywhere near this thick."
He also held up a book of the Administrative Rules of Montana and announced that they had grown to the point where the book itself could not be fully closed.
"I have become convinced, and I have stated on a number of occasions, that this bureaucracy is stifling the schools and we have to do something about it," he said.
He told the Pachyderms that enforcement of the rules increases the expense of providing quality education to Montana's kids, requires the hiring of additional and unnecessary staff, and limits local control of schools systems.
Buchanan said it had been 30 years since anyone had rewritten the statues and promised that if he was elected he would hire an attorney to review the statutes with the goal of seeing what could be rewritten or eliminated. He would then support legislative change.
He added that the Office of Public Instruction had grown to a staff of more than 140 people and declared that that it is too many.
"One hundred and forty people is ridiculous and that's what she has now," he said, referring to Nancy Keenan, the current superintendent of public instruction. "I would shoot for 75 people."
Buchanan also presented the Pachyderms with a recent survey by the Office of Public Instruction. The survey indicated that Montana's students rank near the national average, and in some cases above the national average, in areas concerning health and safety in school.
"All of these things that we have done in the name of the public schools haven't seemed to help one bit to curb the kinds of things that we read about," Buchanan said. "Schools are not very good at establishing morality."
Buchanan singled out sex education classes as being a particular failure as indicated by the survey.
Buchanan advocates stricter discipline in the schools.
"We must increase the discipline, we have to take a close look at mainstreaming the students that come to school with serious problems," he said. "We've got to go to war on the kinds of rules and regulations, on the federal level, that require dangerous and disruptive students to be in the classroom.
A former teacher used to tell his classes that they needed to talk about the "hereafter," Buchanan said: "If you're not here after what the rest of us are here after then we're going to be here after you're gone."
Buchanan told the crowd that the way to lower the drop-out-rate is to increase the kick-out rate.
"We need to tell students when they come in, as beginners in kindergarten, that schools are a special place, your teachers are special people, and education is a special process," he said.
This is the second time Buchanan has run for the office of superintendent of public instruction.