Rosales: Sunchild Rental Agreement With GFPS Employee Is Conflict Of Interest

Editors note: (Photo – Marlee Sunchild and Tony Rosales) GFPS School Board candidate Tony Rosales recently took to Facebook and issued a press release (see below) claiming a conflict of interest on the part of school board incumbent candidate Marlee Sunchild. The press release doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of E-City Beat or any of our contributors and is not a campaign endorsement for any candidate.

From “Tony Rosales for MT” Facebook page:
“Sunchild’s newly discovered ethical oversight is a concern for anyone committed to the highest standard on our school board. Great Falls deserves better.”

Link to full press release:
TRMT Press Release – GFPS Board Conflict of Interest 04262024.pdf – Google Drive

State Of The Races: GFPS School Board

Today E-City Beat sent an email to the three GFPS School Board candidates requesting a candidate profile and their reasons for seeking the position of School Board Trustee. We will publish their responses without edits or editorial comment towards the end of April.

The three candidates vying for one open seat are Rodney Meyers, Marlee Sunchild, and Tony Rosales. The election will be Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

Stay tuned for E-City Beat’s continuing coverage of all local elections, issues, and candidates.

District Leaves School Board Member In The Dark

Great Falls Public School Trustee Paige Turoski confirmed at the Monday, September 25 school board meeting that she didn’t see the letter from the school district to the county commissioners requesting a transfer of election duties away from the elections office until a member of the public sent it to her a few days before the meeting.

The September 7 letter was the subject of a previous E-City Beat article, The Letter That Speaks Volumes. Signed by Superintendent Tom Moore, Director of Business Operations Brian Patrick, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Gordon Johnson, the letter was sent “on behalf of Great Falls Public Schools to formally request the duties of Cascade County Elections Office be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Cascade County Commissioners.” The letter wasn’t specific to school elections.

“I only found out about this a couple hours ago. It was never brought before the board,” Turoski stated on the afternoon of Friday, September 22.

It became apparent at the board meeting that the other trustees were aware of the letter.

Superintendent Tom Moore apologized at the meeting for excluding Turoski. But this was not an isolated oversight.

Moore admitted that Turoski was not part of his email distribution list that included the other trustees. Turoski was elected as a school trustee back in May 2022.

Turoski also expressed surprise that this action was not brought before the board for a vote as had a similar action earlier this year. A search of board minutes confirm the September 7 letter was not discussed or voted on.

However, board minutes confirm that at the April 3 school board meeting, the board considered and voted on a formal request calling for the Cascade County Elections Office to comply with the a mail ballot election plan for the GFPS Trustee Election.

The September 7 letter sent by Moore, Patrick and Johnson was also deemed a formal request, yet it was not put before the school board for a vote.

The letter states twice that it is a request to transfer responsibilities of the elections office to the county commissioners despite Moore’s claims on Monday that the letter was merely a request to the county commissioners for help with communications with the elections office.

The school district’s request is mentioned early in the letter and reiterated toward the end of the letter. It states, “Great Falls Public Schools believes that transferring the responsibilities of the Elections Office to the Cascade County Commissioners would ensure greater accountability, transparency and competence in the administration of elections….We request that you consider this proposal earnestly and initiate the necessary steps to evaluate the feasibility of such a transition”

The county commissioners’ response was read at the meeting and there was no indication they would fulfill the district’s request in the immediate future. According to the Montana Code Annotated, the school district could run their own elections, rather than request removal of all election duties from the clerk and recorder’s office.

The Letter That Speaks Volumes

A letter from Great Falls Public Schools to the Cascade County Commissioners regarding election administration was recently brought to my attention.

The letter, dated September 7, 2023, is signed by Superintendent Tom Moore; Brian Patrick, Director of Business Operations; and Gordon Johnson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees (GFPS school board).

The letter states “We are writing on behalf of Great Falls Public Schools to formally request the duties of Cascade County Elections Office be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Cascade County Commissioners.” (Emphasis added)

What does this mean exactly? I am awaiting a response from Superintendent Moore. The specific questions I asked him:

1. On what date did GFPS Board of Trustees vote to approve and send this letter?

I asked this because I could find no record in a search of GFPS school board minutes that this letter was approved by the full school board. There’s also no disclaimer on the letter that these three district officials were acting on their own volition to send this letter. In fact, the letter claims to be written on behalf of the school district.

It’s particularly troubling that Johnson signed this letter as board chair, because it implies school board approval when apparently that did not happen.

2. What is the legal justification for GFPS officials and the GFPS Board of Trustees to make such a request?

In other words, where is the authority through the Montana Code Annotated for public school officials to request that a duly elected county official be stripped of part of her duties?

I could find no such authority. Instead, I’d like to know whether the three district officials authoring and sending this letter violated any part of Montana Code Annotated §2-2 Standards of Conduct, specifically §2-2-121. Rules of Conduct for Public Officers and Public Employees, which provides restrictions on public officers and employees political activities on public’s time and dollar. Might this letter be considered a political activity?

3. County commissioners supervise the official conduct of all county officials, but they aren’t election administrators. What does GFPS specifically hope to accomplish through this letter?

It seems possible that Moore, Patrick and Johnson wish to subvert the will of the voters of Cascade County, who elected merchant as Clerk, Recorder AND ELECTION ADMINISTRATOR and are asking the commissioners to appoint another person to serve as election administrator separate from the county clerk and recorder’s office.

Yes, Montana Code Annotated makes this a possibly, in MCA § 13-1-301.Election administrator.


So though it appears legal for county commissioners to do what GFPS is requesting — is it just? We all know that when Merchant was elected, election administration was part of the job. How can these GFPS officials think their request is more valid than the will of Cascade County voters?

There is an opportunity for the public to express their opinions on this action by school officials. The next GFPS school board meeting is 5:30 pm, September 25 in the Aspen Meeting Room at the District Office Building. The District Office Building is located at 1100 4th Street South.

The county commissioners haven’t yet taken action on this request and comments can be shared with them through email or by phone:

Commissioner Briggs:
(406) 454-6815

Commissioner Larson:
(406) 454-6816

Commissioner Grulkowski:
(406) 454-681

School Board Candidate Profile: Rodney Meyers

In 1999, the U.S. education system was ranked first in the world. By 2009, the U.S. had dropped to 18th place. The U.S. is now behind all industrialized nations and even several third world nations.

In 2019, Great Falls Public Schools reported to the U.S. Dept. of Education that of our graduating class, 54% were NOT ready for college or career. GFPS also reported that 67% of our high school students are below proficiency in math, 61% below proficiency in science, and 58% below proficiency in reading. The percentages from last year are even worse. Simply put, the majority of students in the GFPS system are performing below grade level!

The mission on the GFPS website clearly states: “We successfully educate students to navigate their future”. The first thing we need to do is to face the truth of our situation. We are failing at our mission. We are not successfully educating our students. We are not setting them up to ‘navigate their future.’ Since the district’s mission is educating students, both the trustees and administration are failing the students and the community.

We also must be honest with our students. When a student fails to accomplish the learning needed to advance to the next grade, the student needs to have additional time and assistance to accomplish that task. The current policy is to move the student to the next grade despite the fact that they have not met the requirements to advance. This is Social Promotion which sets the students up for failure and it needs to stop!

One of the questionnaires I was given, asked, “If elected, what will you do to promote the positive aspects of the Great Falls Public Schools and minimize the negativity often seen and/or heard in public or social media?” I will not be a part of a program that focuses on dishonest ‘happy talk.’ The objective of a school system is to educate.

There are standardized, widely accepted metrics to determine if that goal is being accomplished. By using these objective measures, we are able to asses academic performance. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. When our students or the school systems accomplishments are positive, there should be recognition. Conversely, when there are documented shortcomings, the administration and the trustees need to own the problems and address them head-on!

The constituents (the citizens of the school district) support the school district through taxation. For school year 2021-2022 the GFPS projected revenue was $115, 957,403. Everyone of those dollars came from the taxpayers, which begs the question. Are the taxpayers getting what they are paying for? We need to look at how we were educating our children (curriculum and methods) when we were number 1 in the world because what we are doing now is not working.

There are times when what was done in the past is better than our “new and improved” approach. We need to get back to the basics.

School Board Candidate Profile: Nathan Reiff

My name is Nathan Reiff (pronounced Rife), and I work as a commercial lender at First Interstate Bank. I have lived in Great Falls for the past 18 years. During that time I worked for 14 years at the University of Providence, first as an assistant wrestling coach, then in the student affairs department as a freshmen experience coordinator, and then as the director of student engagement. In 2019, I moved to the Great Falls Development Authority as a business development officer and advisor.  I moved to FIB in 2021. I have a daughter who is a senior at Great Falls High. As a family, we like to ski and travel. We are especially fond of Showdown and the great community atmosphere there. I love to cook and garden and am especially fond of my tomatoes.

I believe most community members value education and our schools, but many are not aware of the lack of funding and the needs of the school district. The district has had to cut staff and programs. The administration, along with KEY and other community members and businesses, have done a good job educating the public about these problems, and we need to continue to do this; especially in years (like this one) when the district is not asking for additional funding. Funding needs to be about engagement and connecting the value of the schools to the community. The previous years have been challenging for teachers, students, staff, administration, and parents. We will need to continue to focus on recovering the gap created by the pandemic to ensure we are helping students reach and meet their educational goals.

There have been a number of successes in programs and education. We have continued to build our apprenticeship programs and are poised to do even more with the continued development of our Career and Technical Education departments. We have expanded our outreach to homeless students and their families. This is essential as we work to keep them in school and ready to graduate and to be career and college ready. We adopted a new English curriculum that should help us overcome some of the learning loss, while providing additional challenges for those who continue to excel.

Schools, and an educated community, are an essential part of a vibrant community. I want to increase the strength of our educational system. That means working with teachers and administrators to understand their aspirations, concerns, and needs. I have benefited from the education my daughter has received. I have also seen how essential it is to have educated individuals for businesses. I would like the opportunity to give back to the school district by serving as a trustee.

School Board Candidate Profile: Paige Turoski

Hello readers, my name is Paige Turoski and I am running for the Great Falls School Board.

I first moved to Great Falls in 2013 to finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Great Falls where I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mathematics.

I met my husband while in school, we married and now have two wonderful boys, Anthony (6) and Killian (3). I am currently a stay-at-home-mom, my hobbies include trips to the range to exercise my second amendment rights, as well as fixing up the old house we call home. As a family, we love heading out to the creek over the summer with our 5 year-old pitbull, Juliette. We also love our church, Saint Mark the Evangelist Orthodox Christian Mission.

I am running for the school board because there is a lack of sensible and responsible representation on the current board, something felt by parents all over the Great Falls area. I am prepared to put differences aside and work with parents, teachers, and administrators to focus on the education of our children.

One of the biggest challenges facing our district is the failing proficiency rates of our students. Our high schools boast 80% graduation rates, however they rank in the bottom 50% of all high schools in the state of Montana. This is, in part, due to the fact that less than half of the students are at the right grade level for reading, writing, and math. Basic education for our children must come first, and it will take a combined effort between the board, parents, teachers, and administrators to both address these problems as well as work towards a solution.

One of the best ways I can think to do this is to put political differences aside and keep the focus on what is best for the children’s education. Which brings me to the second issue I see facing the district, letting politics distract from the education of the students in the district.

A good example is the debate over the mask mandate. There is no denying that masking and mask mandates became a highly political topic, very quickly. Too much time was spent debating something that should have been a decision between students and their parents. Masking should have been optional from the start. Our students should never have been denied access to an education just because they did not want to wear a face covering. Nor should students have been treated as differently, or less than, for choosing to exercise their bodily autonomy.

With proficiency rates as low as ours, that time and effort would have been better spent discussing how to educate our children in the basics, reading, writing, and math instead of a useless political distraction. A strong school district is a valuable asset to any community. Not only will the students education be a representation of where they came from, but our schools are a representation of our values as a community.

Thank you.

School Board Candidate Profile: Mark Finnicum

Both of my kids are products of the Great Falls public school system.  Both of my Grandchildren look to follow that path as well.   3 years ago when I was asked to run the school board, I was NOT interested, until I explored further.  I have always felt, don’t complain if you are not willing to do something about it. So, I tossed my hat in the ring. 

I have been a financial advisor for 22 years, here in GF. My strengths for the board are that I am a rational thinker, budgeter, numbers cruncher, and generally a positive person.  Our children are our future, and are the #1 priority in my mind, above all else.  The school board’s role is to advocate for all children in our district. 

Once you look for the good in our district, you will find an abundance of it.  We have nearly 11,000 staff and students in and out of our doors every day. I listen, ask questions, listen more, ask the right questions to the right people, and then make a logical decision, when the information changes, I give myself  permission to change that direction as needed. 

I certainly like having a seat at the table, and would certainly like to continue the work.  I also sit on the state school board as well as GFPS board, making a positive impact on a bigger scale.  That board has the ability to bring bills to the state legislators using more resources to effect positive change in the public schools state wide.

My hobbies and interests have been numerous.  I have been a conservative  and a Christian my whole life.  I am a lifelong donor to the American Red Cross, giving 12 gallons of whole blood and 150 Platelets donations to date. I am a Rotary past President and past Governor for the state of Mt.  I am the current president of the Electric City noon Toastmasters club, achieving my DTM in ‘17.  

My wife of 37 years and I are active hockey players and I am the vice President of the Ice Foundation. I was active duty Air Force for 6 years. My hobbies also include, hunting, golfing, yard work, and lovin on our grandkids.

I see the biggest challenge that we have in our district is to improve communication.  From the standard parent notices about the day to day school specific notices, to the community wide, big announcements, I feel that we can do better.  

The 2nd is how we fund public schools.  From the state and local taxpayer perspective, it is far too complicated. Once you get your arms around it, it makes some sense.  I have been on the budget and insurance committees for 3 years and that has definite been a learning curve. 

I look forward to serving as your trustee for another 3 years, and I would appreciate your vote.

School Board Candidate Profile: Gordon Johnson

Please describe your experiences and connection to Great Falls Public Schools.

I am coming to the end of a three-year term as a GFPS Board Trustee.  During the time I have been on the Board I have served on the Policy Committee, Safe, Healthy and Secure Schools Committee, the Calendar Committee and the Transportation Committee.  I am currently Vice-Chair of the Board.  I have attended the Montana Council for Educational Leadership for each of the past three years. My wife, who will retire at the end of this year has taught orchestra for 25 years in the GFPS system and our two boys, Max and Alex, attended Sunnyside (where I was part of the Parent Participation Program), East and GFHS. I served as Music Director of the Great Falls Symphony for 35 years and worked closely with GFPS administration in developing live matinee performances for youth.

What do you see as the most challenging issue facing Great Falls Public Schools at this time? What successes do you see in the programs and teaching delivered through Great Falls Public Schools?

We are coming out of two years of a world-wide pandemic.  The GFPS has worked arduously to keep our kids and teachers safe while providing instruction remotely.  The outcome, however, has been a loss in face-to-face instruction.  There will need to be concerted remediation in order to enable students to gain erudition lost during the time of shut down and remote instruction.  This is an immediate challenge that needs to address.

Also, the GFPS needs to be aggressive in finding, hiring and retaining talented teaching staff.  Doing so has been made more difficult due to challenging teaching conditions and low pay. Challenges and opportunities abound!

Even though COVID has been devastating, there has been relief in the form of ESSER money.  This funding has enabled the schools to replace antiquated HVAC systems, engage school nurses in buildings, distribute sanitation supplies, install safety equipment, the acquisition of Chrome Books, playground improvement and much, much more.

There have many, many successes.  All due to the commitment and involvement of a remarkable team of administrators and teachers.  Just to list a few, the High School House, the development of a new ELA curriculum, security cameras at each school, new playgrounds (Meadowlark and Longfellow), the Career and College Readiness Program Enrollment Program, the ROTC program, the alternative high school (PGEA) program, the McKinney-Vento Services to identify homeless students, the GFPS Foundation the list goes on and on.  We need to celebrate our accomplishments!

The Board’s main purpose is to provide governance over the District to ensure that students have ample opportunity to achieve their individual and collective learning needs.

This requires a trustee serving as an emissary for the GFPS: being present at community events, listening to citizens, spreading the good word of the tremendous service the GFPS provides to our community.

School Board Candidate Profile: Brian Cayko

I am running for the school board because I am deeply concerned about the shockingly poor academic performance of the Great Falls Public School system.  

According to the Every Student Succeeds Act report card which can be found on the school district website, only 46% of the students that will graduate this spring from the public high schools in Great Falls are considered ready for either college or career. This is a failure to educate. The ESSA report card also shows that a shocking 73% of the high school students in Great Falls are less than proficient in math, science comes in even worse at 78%, and reading is 62% NOT proficient.  These are young people on the threshold of adulthood, yet stunningly the majority are not considered proficient in the three most basic academic subjects, math, science, and reading. 

I will grant that both the local and national response to covid has impacted education.  It has proven that online school doesn’t work well for most school aged children, especially for those students already struggling. The result is that over half of this year’s graduating seniors will not be career or college ready.

Our school district will face a number of challenges in the coming years, perhaps none more daunting than the recruitment and retention of teachers that can provide the instruction necessary to turn the tide and prepare our youngsters for adulthood.  While there are some efforts to address this, it will continue to be an issue in the years ahead.  Leadership and innovation from the board will be essential for finding solutions to attract and keep the best teachers.  

Parents are rightly concerned with the direction our school system has taken, their voices must be heard and considered.  After all, they are placing their trust in the schools to educate their kids and to keep them safe while doing so.

While academic performance has been allowed to fall, parents have been reporting increased concerns with a slide into a woke agenda of social emotional learning, social grade promotion, social justice, sexualization, identity politics, and mandates.  The priorities of the school system seem to be misdirected and off mission.  We must shift our focus back to academic achievement, classroom attendance, and fulfilling the requirements of a class or course to achieve advancement. 

As a lifelong Montanan, I think it’s essential that we reverse the decline of academic achievement that the ESSA numbers show. My kids go to school here, my family and I live, work, and go to church here. I am a licensed Respiratory Therapist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Respiratory Care for Boise State University, working remotely from my home here in Great Falls, with students all across the nation. I understand the value of education.

  As parents and community members, we must remember the mission of our school system is to “successfully educate students to navigate their futures.” If elected, I pledge I will not forget that mission.