Superintendents Write “Letter of Concern” to Montana Superintendent Arntzen | State and regional

Superintendents from Montana’s eight AA school districts banded together and wrote a letter to Superintendent of Public Education Elsie Arntzen expressing disappointment at her leadership, citing nine specific examples.

The letter, dated Monday, included the signature of Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson.

The other superintendents who signed the letter are Greg Upham (Billings), Godfrey Saunders (Belgrade), Casey Bertram (Bozeman), Thomas Moore (Great Falls), Judy Jonart (Butte), Micah Hill (Kalispell) and Rex Weltz (Helena) ).

“At the end of the day, in order for us to do our job better, we need you to do yours,” the superintendents wrote in the letter.

Many of the issues revolve around the 90% staff turnover rate of the state’s Education Bureau under the supervision of Arntzen, the superintendents wrote.

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The high turnover rate has resulted in “serious shortcomings” such as the lack of support from the Arntzen office when it comes to applying for programs and grants, while some important OPI departments are either understaffed or without a director, according to the letter.

“While we understand the mantra of ‘cut the fat from government’, the steps you have taken have effectively left no muscle in our state’s education agency,” the superintendents wrote.

Arntzen takes the concerns and comments “humbly and seriously,” she said in a response sent Tuesday.

“At the heart of everything we do, our collective mission is to always put students in Montana first,” Arntzen said in his response. “To do this, it is imperative that we have on-going unity and support readily available to our students, teachers, administrative staff and school districts.”

Arntzen compared the challenges of OPI to the “growing pains of pandemic change”.

“Although we have several points of contact with school districts and their leaders each month, your letter made it clear that this was not enough,” Arntzen continued. “I look forward to increased mutual dialogue.”

Superintendents criticize Arntzen’s “months-long campaign” against school district COVID mitigation strategies, which they say undermine the role of elected school trustees and local control.

They also note a meeting Arntzen attended at a local church in Missoula where a comment was made about shooting superintendents in connection with disagreements over mask policies. Arntzen was not in the room at the time of the comment and then condemned the remark.

“Having someone at a political rally that you attended” said we should be shot because of the professional roles we play shook us and outraged us, ”the superintendents wrote. “We realize you tried to steer away from these comments, but this was not the first time you have participated in an event that vilified public educators.”

At that same meeting, Arntzen announced that his office was in the process of creating an administrative rule that would allow parents to opt out of certain school board policies. Superintendents in the letter called the proposed rule “likely unconstitutional” and feared that it would allow students to declare themselves exempt from courses, tests and grades.

The nine points of the Superintendents’ complaint relate to unlicensed educators, updated content standards, federal programs, special education, code of professional ethics, workforce development, grants, and accreditation.

“To be clear, our concerns are not with your politics, but rather with your leadership (or lack of it),” they wrote. They also said they did not wish to blame the “dedicated OPI staff, who we know do their best with what they have been given.”

Regarding unlicensed educators, superintendents express frustration with “the backlog of applications to OPI and the lack of staff to effectively process applications in a timely manner.” It is understood that OPI’s Licensing Department does not take any calls and is about a month late responding to e-mails.

Unlicensed teachers can result in educator non-payment in a timely manner because state law prohibits districts from paying teachers after working 60 days without a license filed with the county superintendent. Superintendents fear this licensing issue may deter teachers from seeking employment opportunities in Montana.

The Montana State Teacher Information System, which is involved in licensing online teachers, will be closed to the public at the end of the year, according to the OPI website. Teachers who have open applications or need to renew their licenses will have until February 1, 2022 to submit paper documents. There is no mention of when the system will be released to the public again and a link to the MSEIS FAQ leads to a Google document with the OPI header that says: “The MSEIS FAQ will be added shortly. “

“This is unacceptable at the best of times, let alone when the state is faced with a critical shortage of licensed educators, as you yourself have said on several occasions,” the superintendents wrote.

Superintendents say there are no plans to update Montana’s content standards and believe the topic is “not a priority” for Arntzen. Outdated content standards are doing a disservice to students and causing financial uncertainty for districts, they said.

Montana’s content standards can be viewed online at the OPI website. The updated standards for vocational and technical education, computing, library media and information literacy, technology, and social science students are all effective July 1 of this year.

However, many essential elements of the program need to be dusted off.

The content standards for the arts, health and sciences were last updated in 2016, and the standards for the English language arts and literacy as well as mathematics are even older, with their last updated in 2011. Content standards for world languages ​​have not changed since 1999.

The OPI does not have a director of state special education at the moment, which has resulted in poor communication between the department and local school districts across the state, according to superintendents.

“Due to the high turnover of staff at OPI, we have lost some of the long-standing ties we had with OPI staff,” wrote the superintendents. “Special education is one of those high-risk areas where districts, especially districts without dedicated compliance staff, can run into problems quickly if they cannot rely on the agency’s technical assistance. national education. “

Similar problems also exist with the OPI accreditation office, according to superintendents, which is now the responsibility of one person with “hundreds of school districts in need of annual accreditation reports.”

“We respectfully ask that you, as an educator in Montana, please take our concerns to heart and make your efforts to restore OPI instead of throwing stones at local school districts,” the superintendents wrote in conclusion.

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