All of the candidates involved in contested races in Missoula County were asked to fill out a Missoulian questionnaire asking them for personal information and what they see as the three greatest concerns facing their school district. Candidates also were given the option of having their photograph run with their candidate profile. Profiles of Frenchtown candidates were featured in Saturday's paper. Profiles of candidates in Florence and Target Range appear today on Page B1.
One incumbent and two newcomers are vying for two open posts on the elementary portion of the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees.
The election is Tuesday.
Incumbent Jenda Cummings, who has served six years on the board, and Missoula residents Carol Bellin and Peter A. Mitchell are the three candidates competing for spots on the seven-member elementary board. Currently those seats are filled by trustees Barb Seekins and Cummings.
Seekins, also a six-year veteran on the board, did not seek re-election. She was the tie-breaking vote when the board was split 3-3 on whether to close Prescott School at the end of this school year. Seekins voted to close the school. Two of the three candidates seeking a trustee seat want to reconsider that vote.
Here's a look at each candidate and where they stand on the issues:
Occupation: Women's Opportunity and Resource Development Inc. project coordinator. Worked 20 years in nonprofit administration and program management.
Length of time in school district: Three years
Related experience: Parent of a first-grader in public school. Attended almost all of the school board meetings and budget work sessions for past two years. Serve as PTA member and chaired its Legislative Issues Committee, monitoring education funding at state level. Served two years on the Northern Missoula Community Development Corp. board of director's finance committee.
Why you decided to run for trustee: "I have been concerned about the difficulties that our schools face in these times of reduced funding and increasing costs. I have a deeply rooted belief that providing all of our children with a quality public education is perhaps the most important and valuable social contract we have."
"My goals are to protect quality education for Missoula's children by supporting teachers, sustaining neighborhood schools and tackling the district budget with hard work and creativity."
Bellin said she has experience as a community organizer who solicits public input.
"I can think independently and offer some new perspectives and solutions to the problems at hand," she said.
Top education concerns: Bellin said the district needs to maintain quality programs that provide well-rounded education and inspiration, excitement and opportunities for students to explore their natural gifts and talents, such as art, music, gifted education, foreign languages. The district needs to make sure there is equity in opportunities that each school offers its students.
The district should support the needs of teachers and staff by maintaining a class size that enables the teacher to use his or her skills and talents. She supports a pay raise for teachers, especially increasing the starting salary for new teachers. She also supports a living wage for other staff such as para-educators, secretaries, custodians.
Bellin said the district needs to develop and implement a long-term facilities plan that efficiently uses district resources.
"We certainly need to develop a plan to consolidate administration buildings and end the waste and inefficiency of maintaining three buildings," she said. "We may need to redraw some school boundaries or plan for reopening some closed school facilities over the next five years."
"I support keeping smaller neighborhood schools open as they provide a better learning environment and make it easier for kids and parents to participate in school activities when the school is nearer to home," she said.
Bellin said the largest problem facing school districts is inadequate state education funding. It has shifted a greater burden on local property taxpayers, a situation that will be compounded by the federal No Child Left Behind Act which is largely unfunded, she said.
Position on closing Prescott School in June: "I really regretted the decision was made," she said. Asked if she would resurrect the issue, Bellin replied, "As a new member, I don't know if I would bring it up. I still believe that school merits the support of our district and administration."
Bellin said she supports keeping Prescott School open. "I have a lot of concerns about the plan to send the fifth-graders to the middle school which is why, if I were a board member, I would vote to keep it open," she said.
She added she is also very concerned about Lowell Elementary students arriving at Rattlesnake Middle School a year after a fifth-grade class has become established there.
She said she would work to find a long-term solution to the issue so that the Prescott community can feel some stability in their neighborhood school.
Occupation: former journalist, now stay-at-home mom
Length of time living in the school district: 22 years
Related experience: Served six years on MCPS elementary board, including one year as board chairwoman. Currently chairwoman of the curriculum and instruction committee. Past PTA president. Parenting experience with children in elementary, middle and high schools. Participated in hiring new superintendent.
"Credit for any accomplishments lies not with an individual trustee, but with the group as a whole. I am part of an 11-member team that works in close partnership with the administration and staff.
"During my time on the board, the district has opened an Alternative High School, reduced the dropout rate from 10.8 percent to the current 3.4 percent, lowered K-2 class size averages and passed a $20 million high school bond issue."
MCPS now also has an articulated K-12 curriculum based on national standards, best practices and teacher insights; supported with targeted staff development and appropriate assessments, Cummings said.
"I have been a strong advocate for the diversity and excellence of programs," she said.
Why you decided to run for trustee: "It has been a privilege to serve as a trustee. I love this job and the opportunity to give a little back to Missoula. I also like the idea of my children understanding that citizenship is not passive."
Top education concerns:
- Maintaining the quality of education in the face of continuing budget cuts.
- The need for long-range planning for the budget, facilities and program delivery. "I am concerned about our successful middle school model in light of some community and trustee interest in a return to K-8 schools."
- Continuing to encourage and increase parent and community involvement in our schools.
- Implementation and the consequences of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
- Staff recruitment and retention.
Position on closing Prescott School in June: Cummings was one of four trustees on the seven-member elementary board to vote for closure.
"This painful decision should not be revisited. It is time to move forward. Good decision-making requires collaboration. Collaboration requires a level of trust and confidence that allows individuals to work together to achieve a greater good. Continually revisiting decisions undermines the board's ability to lead the district.
"I feel a growing number of people are ready to put this issue behind them. Children, families and teachers need stability. Plans have been made for the Prescott fourth- and fifth-graders. Time, effort and money went into planning this transition two years ago. Students have been told where they'll attend school next year. Families are relieved.
"Repeated votes on closing Prescott are emotionally wearing for everyone involved. Our district will never move ahead if we are always looking backward.
"Public education is inadequately funded in Montana. Our first goal has to be preserving the quality of education for all children in our district. We have to look at the whole. The cost of keeping Prescott open will be borne by all schools. Other cuts will have to be made that may limit opportunities for children or affect quality."
Occupation: Graduate student in nutrition at University of Montana. Distributor for Juice Plus. Also worked as a geologist from 1974 to 2002.
Length of time in school district: Lived in Missoula area since 1978 and within the school district since 1997.
Related experience: "I have taught at the university level and organized and taught corporate technical seminars. I am on the Paxson Elementary School Nutrition Advisory Council and participate in the MOVE program as a parent representative. MOVE is an obesity prevention program funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant that aims to increase healthful eating and physical activity."
Why you decided to run for trustee: "I have seen the consequences of underfunding education in several underdeveloped countries, but also have seen the incredible results that can be accomplished by combining inadequate budgets with creativity. I have a son in the fourth grade at Paxson Elementary and have the time, energy, ability and desire to help Missoula's teachers and administrators provide the best well-rounded education possible for our children."
Top education concerns: "I am very concerned about curriculum and class size and community awareness and involvement. Concerns related to curriculum and class size include program and teacher cuts, optimal class size, state variances, neighborhood schools and inadequate school funding."
"Community awareness and involvement is important because I believe that very few people understand how the education system actually works," Mitchell said. "When people do not understand how the system works they are reluctant to get involved. Unless a significant number of people are involved, change will not occur."
Position on closing Prescott School in June: "I am fundamentally against closing neighborhood schools because they foster effective learning, parental involvement and a sense of community. The decision to close a neighborhood school requires a substantial amount of unequivocal demographic and economic data confirming that keeping the school open would have significant adverse effects on the quality of education throughout the district.
"My decision on whether or not to close Prescott School would require not only unequivocal demographic and economic cause, but also depend on the impact that closing the school would have on the quality of education and life of the children and parents affected by the decision.
"I believe the school board should reassess its decision to close Prescott School."