In a surprising twist in the race for Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, the Republican candidate announced Wednesday night that a local Democratic senator is endorsing her over the Democratic incumbent.
Sandy Welch, a consultant from Martin City, is challenging Superintendent Denise Juneau, the first Native American woman elected to state office.
State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, who is unopposed in his bid for re-election, endorsed Welch, saying Juneau has created regulations that have added an unnecessary burden on teachers and schools.
“Sandy Welch has shown that she will think outside the box when solving our schools’ problems, ” Windy Boy said in a release issued by Welch’s campaign. “Denise Juneau doesn’t understand how to solve the problems our schools are facing. Juneau increases mandates and creates new programs with great media campaigns. Mandates don’t help kids. After hearing Juneau debate, it’s clear that she isn’t focused on increasing school performance. ”
Windy Boy said this morning that he had no specific regulations from OPI he was citing, but said that one thing that caught his attention in Tuesday’s debate between Welch and Juneau was Welch saying she would consider charter schools, while Juneau opposes them.
Windy Boy said he saw evidence last session that charter schools could make a difference and possibly reduce dropout rates in Montana.
“I don’t know if I’m necessarily for the majority of public school funding to go to charter or alternative schools … but, the point being, how do we know something doesn’t work if we haven’t tried it, ” Windy Boy said.
Welch welcomed Windy Boy’s support.
“For too long, we have allowed education to be too much of a political issue in Montana, ” she said in Wednesday’s release. “We need to put the blinders on and leave special interests behind and set course for an excellent education for our kids. ”
The chair of the Hill County Democratic Party, John Musgrove, said this morning that Windy Boy did not discuss his endorsement with the party — or notify them of the endorsement before making it.
“I think it’s unfortunate that Jonathan chose to trivialize all that Superintendent Juneau has done for Montana schoolchildren, ” Musgrove said this morning, adding, “And I have to ask myself, what is the real reason behind this insult? ”
Windy Boy’s comments about overregulation by Juneau was a focus of comments Welch made during a debate with Juneau Tuesday. She also said Juneau has inflated her record as superintendent in the last four years.
Juneau said Welch’s focus on giving grades to schools to promote accountability, changing standards Juneau said promote small class sizes and school quality, and “pulling money out of our public schools to fund private schools and for-profit corporations” would hurt education in the state.
Juneau, an enrolled member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes and a 1985 graduate of Browning High School, taught in North Dakota before returning to teach in Browning and served as the Office of Public Instruction OPI’s Indian education specialist, before returning to school and receiving her law degree. She was OPI’s director of Indian Education when she won the 2008 election for superintendent.
Welch, a native of Pennsylvania, has worked as a math teacher and middle school vice principal and principal of Ronan High School.
In an interview with the Havre Daily News in May, she said that in her consulting business she has primarily worked with schools on the Flathead Indian Reservation as well as with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Salish Kootenai College.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes endorsed Juneau in the election.
Musgrove disagreed with Windy Boy’s comments on regulation and taking control from local school boards, saying Juneau has worked hard to minimize that impact of regulations that, ultimately, come from the federal government. He also applauded her work to reduce impacts of the federal No Child Left Behind laws.
“I think that Denise has been, if not the best, among the top superintendents we have ever had for OPI, ” said Musgrove, a four-term state representative and long-time Havre schoolteacher. “And I do know our party absolutely supports her. ”