MISSOULA, Mont. – In 2012, Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle dismissed a massive student protest over a raise he received from the school board, saying, “My contract is an adult issue, not a student issue, quite frankly.”
So last year an adult in the community, Brian O’Leary, decided to address the issue with Apostle.
O’Leary was concerned because his children did not have math textbooks for their elementary classes.
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“The only place (the students) can find a copy of their textbook to understand how the materials are being taught is online,” O’Leary said. “MCPS is proceeding as if every student has a computer and internet access.”
O’Leary was told the lack of textbooks was a funding issue.
The math curriculum budget was $500,000, while the “school district only had $200,000 to work with for all curriculum needs across the board,” said a report from NBC Montana.
But O’Leary wasn’t buying that excuse. He thought the district was focused on the wrong priorities, like “overspending” on administrative salaries.
Of course the best example was Apostle’s very significant raise – $45,000 over a three-year period – which would increase his annual salary from $155,000 to $200,000.
As a student-produced video noted, that’s more than the superintendent makes in Billings, the state’s largest school district.
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O’Leary met with Apostle, then told the media that the superintendent brushed aside any suggestions of cutbacks to administrative salaries.
“I went to the superintendent and I said ‘Here are my issues. Do you know how many students are without books? Across what subjects? How much would it cost to fix it and what sort of administrative cuts are you willing to make to remedy this?’” O’Leary said. “He ruled out the administrative cuts out of hand immediately.”
Apostle’s pay increase inspired a huge protest in the small community.
Students circulated a petition throughout the district protesting the raise, and it was signed by approximately 2,000 residents. Students and residents also packed a school board meeting to voice their concerns.
The teachers union also objected to the raise, with the president of the union noting that the district had many unresolved issues, like broken clocks, chairs and computers, and a general lack of classroom supplies.
Hatton Littman, the director of Technology and Communication at Missoula County Public Schools, defended administrators’ pay.
“Based on other AA school districts in the state of Montana, we’re actually very low in our administrative costs. We maintain a high, high, high percentage of our budget in the classroom,” Littman told the news station.
But Littman also acknowledged that district officials had to make a “difficult choice” when it came to instructional spending, and it was the middle school’s turn to utilize priority funds.
So let’s see if we have this straight. The superintendent gets a $45,000 raise while the district is forced to choose who gets textbooks – middle school students or elementary students.
Public schools exist to benefit students, not the people who work in them.
The Missoula school district clearly has some very screwed up priorities.
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