Candidates answer your questions

Editor's note: This is another in the continuing series in which Montanans ask candidates for governor about the issues.

HELENA - All five candidates for governor want to see teachers in Montana paid better, although they have different proposals how to reach that goal.

This question about teacher pay came from Matt Driessen of Missoula:

"With Montana teacher salaries falling to 46th in the nation, and with a teacher shortage gripping the nation, what specific policies will you as governor enact to raise the wages of core curriculum teachers in the state of Montana? There is a strong growing movement to have one state salary schedule for teachers; much like the Washington state model. 1. Would you support this initiative? 2. Would you use the Billings teacher salary as a base? If not, what is a fair wage for teachers in the state of Montana?"

€ Democrat Mike Cooney: Montana's secretary of state: "First, I'll tell the Legislature that we will fund education first, and we'll fund it with what it needs to succeed, not with what's left over. Second, we'll move swiftly on the issue of teacher pay with the goal of moving from 46th in the nation to the national average. I'll implement a $3,000 annual stipend for teachers who obtain National Board Certification, will fund a teacher-to-teacher mentoring program and support an increase in state-funded training. Third, we work together. Issues like a statewide salary schedule are best developed in a collaborative environment and as governor, I'll bring people together to develop meaningful consensus that helps move Montana forward."

€ Republican Judy Martz, Montana's lieutenant governor: "To build a better economy with higher paying jobs, we have to provide a good education for our kids. Decisions need to be made by parents and teachers on the local level, rather than by bureaucrats with top-down, one-size-fits-all policies. A key to my JOBS Plan is to recruit, retain and reward the best teachers by undertaking a bipartisan effort to increase teacher's pay. We also need to give schools the flexibility to implement local merit pay plans. Additionally, we need to give teachers more control in their classrooms. Working together, we can improve educational opportunities for Montana's future."

€ Democrat Joe Mazurek, Montana's attorney general: "My wife, Patty, is a 25-year teacher who earns less than our nephew, a recent Montana Tech graduate working for a high-tech Bozeman firm. My initiative on public education would increase the state's share of school funding, so more money is available for salaries and other educational purposes, and offer tax and loan reduction incentives for new teachers who choose to teach in Montana's smaller communities. We need to make sure that as the state puts more money into public education, teacher salaries are raised accordingly. However, I believe salaries should be locally bargained and should not be set statewide."

€ Republican Rob Natelson, a University of Montana law professor: "Montana uses less of its education spending for teachers' salaries than all surrounding states. (This shows how current union leadership, for all its bluster, has failed Montana teachers.) I want to raise the share of education dollars going to teachers to at least the national average, which would give teachers thousands of dollars more pay without tax increases. I favor targeting higher pay to better teachers because otherwise children don't benefit. Wide experience shows that local control of schools helps children while central control hurts children. I therefore favor local control and oppose a salary straitjacket on Montana schools."

€ Democrat Mark O'Keefe, Montana's state auditor: "We can start by increasing the amount of state support for K-12. State support has fallen from 70 to 60 percent of school costs over 10 years. Increased state funding will help local districts afford better teacher salaries. Allowing school districts to join the state's health insurance pool will reduce health insurance costs and allow for higher salaries. I support local control of school districts and the collaborative bargaining process. The Legislature should not mandate salaries. If they did, it is likely they would choose a number in the middle of current salaries, creating winners and losers."

€ To ask questions of candidates for governor, readers may send them to the Lee Newspapers State Bureau, P.O. Box 1676, Helena, Mont. 59601, or fax them to 406-443-0034 or e-mail them to: csjohnson@uswest.net. Participants are asked to include their addresses and phone numbers for verification.

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