A Hellgate High School student unhappy with the recent announcement of Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle’s 13 percent pay raise found plenty of people who agreed with her after posting an online petition asking Apostle to reject the increase.
“We wrote it because we’re really fed up with how the school board and Dr. Apostle are dealing with money,” said Hellgate senior Yetta Stein. Instead of Apostle’s much-touted Graduation Matters program to raise graduation rates, she said, “we believe our education matters.”
Stein, whose father Gary Stein is a teacher at Sentinel High School, said she posted the petition Wednesday at about 6 p.m. on SignOn.org. By Thursday afternoon, it had roughly 150 signatures.
The “MCPS Administration Petition” reads: “We ask that Dr. Apostle reject the raise and Tony (sic) Rehbein and the MCPS School Board be reevaluated in the May School Board election.”
Last week, the Missoula County Public Schools board voted 6-4 in favor of a three-year contract that retroactively gives Apostle a raise from $155,000 to $175,000 this year, and ultimately boosts his salary to $200,000 in the 2013-14 school year. Other district employees are to receive 2 percent raises, according to Missoula Education Association President Melanie Charlson.
At the time, board Chairwoman Toni Rehbein called Apostle a “superstar” and said the raise was needed to keep him in the district. On Thursday, Rehbein did not return a call for comment about the petition.
Susan Hay Patrick, chief executive officer of United Way of Missoula County, praised the students’ initiative.
“I think that’s what we encourage in an outstanding school district – for kids to be informed, to form opinions, to express their opinions and to advocate that others support their opinions. So I say, good on them,” Patrick said.
At the same time, she called Apostle “an outstanding leader.”
“It’s costly to lose school superintendents. I think it would be good for us to keep this one,” she said. “... I think if we want to attract and retain excellent leaders, we ought to reward them accordingly.”
Sentinel senior Maddy Roy was among those who signed the petition. Like Stein, she singled out the Graduation Matters program, accusing the district of lowering standards to achieve higher graduation rates.
Apostle should take the amount of money going to his raise – as well as a higher district contribution to his tax-sheltered annuity, and the ability for him to cash in unused vacation and personal days – and put it into fine arts, foreign languages and other existing programs, she said.
“There’s science behind the fact that fine arts help education, and yet it is the first thing to be cut,” Roy said. “He could use it (the money for the raise) toward tutoring programs to help kids who are struggling, and for extracurricular activities like speech and debate. I don’t think it’s more constructive in Dr. Apostle’s pocket.”
And Debbie Cherene, who graduated from Sentinel in 2010, is still smarting over the district’s decision a year earlier – not long after Apostle came aboard – to cut the Young Family program that served pregnant students. The district cited budget cuts.
“I was nearly forced to drop out of school,” said Cherene, who signed the petition. Her concerns go beyond the Young Family program. “If he really did care about graduation, he would keep the music programs as well as stop letting teachers go. ... I feel like it’s important for the Missoula community to stand up for what’s right. Apostle is not right for this community.”
The petition also takes aim at school board members. If Apostle keeps the money, it urges community members not to re-elect Rehbein.
And, it continues, “This includes all members of the School board not serving in the best interests of the students of Missoula.”