Those are the only words that readily come to mind to describe Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tammy Lacey’s tirade against the recently elected, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen. According to the Tribune, Lacey “asked the superintendent whether she had plans to publicly fund preschool for the less fortunate children in the state, unlike Arntzen’s own granddaughter who is lucky to ‘have a full tummy every day.'” Aside from the gratuitous cheap shot against Arntzen’s family–discussed below–the bigger issue here is whether this is a legitimate complaint. (Wait, what? Did she just use the word “tummy” in a professional meeting? Or, maybe, she was just being condescending…)

Did you know that the Great Falls Public Schools operates a preschool? We do not doubt that somewhere in our State and Local District’s significant budgets there is money for early childhood care, probably from the federal government. But if you review the statutes governing the Office of Public Instruction, you will, we think, agree that the primary duties relate to schools and students. Likewise, the duties granted district superintendents focus on “pupils,” which are defined as “enrolled in school.” Under such circumstances, we should be able to agree first that there might be different priorities, and second that our newly elected State Superintendent is not deserving of a public shaming simply because the focus of her efforts might be, oh, on the students in the schools, rather than students in preschool who, by definition are not in school yet. Perhaps Lacey and her administrators might focus first on scholastic success and, when every student that graduates from GFPS marks a 36 on his or her ACT, then they can save the world with our money. Or, better yet, how about when every student graduates?

Oh, we know, we know. If students are hungry, they can’t learn. If kids are hungry before they are even school aged, they’ll be set back. OK, that’s Lacey’s priority. But it might not be everyone’s priority. And, by that logic, maybe the GFPS should get a levy for some programs dealing with prenatal care? Because you know, without prenatal care, kids are less likely to be born healthy. If not born healthy, they won’t develop as well, and won’t be ready to learn when they hit kindergarten. You know, maybe there’s an even better idea. Maybe GFPS can fund family planning services so potential moms who are likely to have bad prenatal care won’t get pregnant in the first place?

Or, maybe, like Arntzen suggests, we can make the actual students in the schools a higher priority? Seriously, have these highly-educated educators never studied the concept of scarcity? Because they’re supposed to be teaching our kids about it in high school.

Look, we get it. There are needy families in Great Falls. They need help and there is some help available. We have a whole state department, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, whose job it is to feed the hungry. Why isn’t Lacey drilling the head of that Department about needy families? Frankly, one could make a reasonable argument that all food programs for needy families should be shifted under the umbrella of the Office of Public Instruction. Schools already have contact with the vast majority of these families, and already have a bureaucracy in place. If Lacey was really looking for an outside the box solution, that might be one.

But Lacey’s theatrics weren’t about solutions. This little ‘show’ was all about virtue signaling.

To take a cheap, personal shot in a public forum was simply unprofessional pandering to the audience. (2-1 Lacey runs for OPI superintendent.) Did Arntzen deserve the cheap shot because her family must be able to feed its children? Is Lacey starving? Should the rest of us who pay our taxes and, therefore, Lacey’s salary, be publicly shamed because our families aren’t starving and we disagree with her? Maybe Lacey should remember that these same taxpayers elected Arntzen.

We’ve seen some pretty unprofessional displays in our time–Mayor Stebbins comes to mind–but Lacey’s stunt demonstrates misplaced priorities. Feeding non-student, preschool kids is just one possible goal out of many, many goals for our OPI. Maybe it’s Lacey’s priority, but that does not mean anyone who has different priorities within the universe of choices is evil, or deserves a public flogging. Lacey should be figuring out ways to work with Arntzen to achieve her ends, not trying to undermine her in search of cheap political points with her audience of administrators.

Reader interactions

22 Replies to “Showboatin’”

  1. This is spot on. Lacey needs to apologize to Arntzen and to the public. Maybe “Tummy Tammie” needs to be reminded that she works for us and she was not elected by voters – Arntzen was.


  2. Maybe Ms Lacy should just focus on one thing at a time. Her cheap shots, are a cover for something bigger.


  3. A teacher who loves her students January 29, 2017 at 5:25 PM

    To the author who wrote this: As a public school kindergartern teacher, each and everyday we see children walk into the classroom starving, struggling to be successful in school due to the fact that they have not received preschool. This is a huge problem. Come into our classrooms and see what we do each and everyday and why public preschool to help those that need it or have a “tummy” that is hungry as you say. Have some compassion for those educating your youth and face the facts that everyday a teacher does what they can to help those who need it most. Lots of these students not only are hungry but need other early interventions which is done at preschool. I hope that instead of criticizing Supt. Lacey for asking about the facts, you will come and watch the daily trenches of a school and see why this is an important statement.


  4. Dear Anonymous Writer of E-City Beat,
    This is Tammy Lacey, not writing anonymously. Since when is asking a meaningful question during a public question and answer forum “showboating” “grandstanding,” “a cheap, personal shot,” “unprofessional pandering,” and a “cheap political point?” The entire hour with Ms. Arntzen was formatted for her to answer nine pre-determined questions with 15 minutes left at the end for questions from the audience. I had just listened to her NOT answer the nine questions that came before the audience Q&A…questions that had been given to her in advance as our guest. These were questions that educational professionals had carefully determined based on what was important to us.

    By the way, I get asked to speak to groups all the time, often with instructions as to what they would like me to talk about and sometimes I’m given the questions in advance like Ms. Arntzen was in this case. I take my invitation seriously, and prepare my comments carefully and thoughtfully. It was obvious as she attempted to answer the questions that our Superintendent of Public Instruction either didn’t prepare a single talking point for ANY of the questions or wasn’t able to clearly articulate her thoughts about them.

    When it came time to ask her questions, several of us did. I don’t recall how many others asked questions before me, but I was glad to be called on to ask mine because I had a question that is important to many educators, parents and community members across Montana, “Do you see a pathway towards addressing the opportunity gap by publicly funding pre-school for our youngest and neediest Montana students?” I did lead into it by making a point that many of Montana’s children did not have the same kind of opportunity as her granddaughter (which she had mentioned on perhaps at least two different occasions during her attempts to answer the previous nine questions). It was a point of comparison and not meant to demean Ms. Artnzen’s family in any way. Yes I used the work “tummies.” I’m sorry you find that unprofessional but that’s the word that came to mind as I thought about hungry and food insecure four and five year olds that could benefit from public preschool opportunities. I guess shame on me for that unprofessional word choice.

    Her answer to my question was confusing (you can read it in the Tribune as it was printed word for word) but what I extrapolated from her words was that if the legislature passed funding for public preschool that she would not “impede” it going forward. Really? If a law is passed by the Montana Legislature that the Superintendent of Public Instruction is to administer, that’s the tactic she would take, to not obstruct, hinder, hamper or block it? My follow-up remarks said that her answer was “disheartening.” I said that I thought the word would be to “advocate” for it. Because that would be her JOB as the Superintendent of Public Instruction…to advocate for the laws that she was elected to implement.

    Finally, I will add that Ms. Arntzen is the Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction. Just like the position I hold, there is an expectation that the public will ask hard questions. I put myself out there all the time. I just did it at several community forums and at nearly 60 different gatherings of people that asked hard questions about the bond levy. I’m doing it now as we prepare the 2017-2018 budget. I do it in front of the press and I do it at Board meetings. I’m actually doing it right now as I write this. I understand that not everyone agrees with me and I don’t expect anyone other than myself to explain my position or my thinking. I guess Ms. Arntzen is lucky to have an ideological supporter like the anonymous writer of the E-City Beat to speak for her and defend her. Judging from your comments, you weren’t actually at the meeting. For meaningful feedback, I’m going to rely on those that were actually present.

    By the way, I do plan to work very closely with Ms. Arntzen as I did with her predecessor. Public education is too important to not support her as she learns about her new responsibilities—the children of Montana. I would also be happy to discuss the merits of public preschool or any other educational topic with you…in person and not behind the veil of anonymity.


    1. Tammy, this is Rick Tryon not commenting anonymously and not including any of your family members in these comments.

      I appreciate the hard work you and all of the great teachers do for the kids in this community. The pre-school funding issue is a legitimate topic for civil debate and discussion. Using Arntzen grandchildren, who have nothing whatsoever to do with your agenda, as a prop to call her out publicly was inappropriate.

      You’re better than that.


    2. Stephen LeMaster January 30, 2017 at 2:45 AM

      My name is Stephen LeMaster, and I find your continued efforts to defend your comments as tone-deaf as your original comments were offensive. I will move on, though, to a matter of greater substance.

      You make a legitimate point that Ms. Arntzen would not have the authority to “impede” funding for preschool if the legislature enacts such an appropriation. Put more simply, she must abide by the duly enacted laws of the State of Montana. Given this, what makes you think she has the authority to divert funds specified for public schools to preschools? There seems to be a logical inconsistency in your reasoning here, but this was never about logic, was it? It was, just as the author said, grandstanding.

      I don’t care about your word choice. I find it distasteful, though, whenever anyone brings minor children into such a discussion. The fact that you’re doubling down on it is not just distasteful; it’s downright shameful. It’s too bad you compromised a very legitimate concern by employing gutter tactics.


    3. To the Anonymous Writer of this Blog: If you have kids who are going to school in Great Public Schools, or will go there in the future, I HIGHLY recommend you remain anonymous.


    4. “It was a point of comparison and not meant to demean Ms. Artnzen’s family in any way.”

      Come on, no one is buying that. Instead of apologizing for a poor effort to make a point you’re doubling down, which is pretty disappointing considering it’s an important subject. Bringing her family into it is a cheap political tactic that isn’t new and doesn’t make your argument any more persuasive. Pretty disappointing.


    5. Heeding Mark's Advice January 30, 2017 at 4:01 PM

      Superintendent Lacey:

      You wrote that “Public education is too important to not support her as she learns about her new responsibilities—the children of Montana.” I’m sorry, but HOW ARROGANT. Elsie Arntzen spent 23 years in Montana classrooms, surely she has SOME inkling about what Montana kids are all about, even though you may not share the same views. You say you’ll work closely with Arntzen, which is great, but how are these types of comments helpful to building that relationship?

      I’ll grant that you’re probably a better speaker than Arntzen, I guess I just don’t know what good it did to rub it in. I hope Superintendent Arntzen is mature enough to look past this pettiness. I sincerely hope the two of you WILL work together well.


    6. Fascinating Wolf March 21, 2018 at 8:21 AM

      Ms. Lacey,

      Bringing up theoretical hungry toddlers with empty “tummies” is downright embarrassing, and has nothing to do with your role as a superintendent of public schools. Your response to this piece struck me as tone deaf and even suggests a lack of basic reading comprehension. I guess that’s why you’re earning the big bucks. Please just know that you do not speak for many (most) Montanans. Many of us do not believe that pre-school will solve the problems you think it will solve.

      Responsibility over the students of Montana does not mean educators or the gov’t is responsible for providing every resident child with childcare, free food, toys, iPads, counseling, entertainment, etc. The public school system exists to provide an education to school-aged children. We cannot and should not be trying to solve all of society’s problems. Doing so will inevitably result in failure.


  5. I’m curious with all the talk of funding a state paid preschool program in Montana Public Schools what is the purpose of Head Start and what will this do to private preschool and daycare programs…many which employ the good citizens of our state? This in light of shortfalls in our state budget. Just wondering…


    1. HeadStart is a great program that is income-based (or income restricted – however you want to phrase it). The idea behind the Gov’s preK proposal is to expand preschool opportunities for all students. The current plan is to commit $14 million over the biennium to increase access. School districts such as Great Falls who have some preK (again, based on high poverty schools) would be able to expand some, as would providers in rural communities who qualify and more. It’s about expanding access – $14 million won’t give everyone access, but it’s a really, really good first step forward. Montana is one of only five states not currently offering preK. I also think it’s worth mentioning public officials, especially elected ones, should be held accountable. In the case of our new State Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction we have someone who has a voting record from her 14 years in the legislature that flies in the face of public education (Her voting record is accessible online). It’s not like she’s new to this arena and she should be expected to stand up in front of one of her most important groups of constituents (outside of MT’s 140,000+ public school children) – Montana teachers and school administrators– and explain why she won’t be advocating for public preK this legislative session. Tammy Lacey had the audacity to ask the State Superintendent of Schools a question about her legislative agenda (or really, lack there of) and expect an answer, because, you see the experts in that room, the teachers and school administrators who work with MT students every day, have all strongly supported the idea of public preK for a long time. They are curious why their State Superintendent, who was at one time a classroom teacher, is not willing to stand with them. Tammy Lacey had the audacity to answer a question. Instead of being flogged by a blog that wants to be seen as a source of relevant news in Great Falls she should be applauded for exercising her First Amendment right to question her Government, just as you are given the right to post this blog, even with incorrect facts about who actually governs education in this state (FYI – it’s NOT DPHHS) and your ill-informed opinion.


  6. I have lived in this state for over 40 years. I am proud to be a passionate and dedicated public school teacher. I have worked for and witnessed plenty of administrators during that time. Few, if any, begin to approach the caliber of Supt. Tammy Lacey. The Great Falls Public Schools are fortunate to have her working for the young people in your community. Ms. Lacey’s professional commitment to children and their education is undeniable – and until reading this blog – I thought unquestionable. The fact that Tammy and your district have managed to implement early childhood education programs in the GFPS despite the legislature failing to pony up funds and create such programs throughout our state is admirable. Research has shown time and time again that investing in early childhood does more to provide the American Dream for all of our citizens than anything else. America will continue to be a world leader so long as it continues to provide quality education – public education – for all of our students. I applaud your superintendent’s willingness to discuss educational issues, to ask hard questions, and to seek answers from our newly elected Superintendent. Did you read the transcript of Supt. Arntzen’s rambling vague response? I certainly don’t understand what she was getting at. Indeed, Elsie has an obligation to try, as best she can, to lead our state’s educational community – a responsibility she is sorely under-qualified for, and maybe quite frankly, that she will prove unable to do. The best thing our newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction can do now is LISTEN to the people of Montana, surround herself with and continue listening/learning from the best and brightest in the field (of which Tammy Lacey is certainly one), and try to grapple with a very steep learning curve! Thank you for all you do to keep Montana on top when it comes to educating America’s youth, Supt. Lacey!! I hope the author of this blog will ask to tour the GF schools’ pre-school facilities, learn about their programs, and then visit with others in our state – both urban and rural in nature – who can only dream of having the quality programs of the Great Falls Public Schools. Yes, those of you calling the Electric City home really have a good thing going; the rest of Montana looks to you as a shining example.


  7. To the “teacher who loves her students”- if you indeed have students who are coming to school “starving” as you stated, let me remind you that you are a mandated reporter of abuse and neglect and you better be calling dphhs on those parents. If you are not doing that then you are breaking the law and are part of the problem. Perhaps you are exaggerating?


    1. Have you ever had to call dfs? If you have then you would know that nothing ever happens!! You can’t start judging unless you yourself have been there…As a teacher myself and someone who has had to call dfs several times and then had to watch these poor children as NOTHING was done to help them, then you would understand. My guess is this teacher who loves her students has done everything in her power to help and shame on you for judging when you aren’t there to see what she is or is not doing!


      1. I actually work with preschool children as my full time job. I have been told that if multiple reports are made there is more likelihood of action being taken. To not report when you are legally obligated is doing a disservice to the children and illegal.


  8. I think this is a critical time to put our political differences aside and do what needs to be done for the public schools of Great Falls.


    1. I think that’s what this blog was about? Tammy should have put aside her political differences instead of using the forum to attack Arntzen and use her grandchild against her.


  9. No, this blog was about demeaning someone for actually demanding answers of her elected officials.


    1. So, “MontanaGirl,” you’re fine with the gratuitous reference to Arntzen’s grandchildren?


      1. It was not gratuitous since Arntzen brought her grandchildren into the conversation. This is not anonymous if I have to provide an email.


  10. I’ve been a teacher in Great Falls and Montana for about ten years. Most teachers I work with are very high empathy individuals who feel very sorry for the children. And many students do indeed have terrible home lives. However, the amount of students who are “starving” is negligible. Nobody wants children to go hungry, but at what point does it become the education system’s responsibility to parent children? If a child is being abused, we already have a system in place to deal with that. You know what else kids need, apart from food? Love. Non-divorced parents. Non-addicted parents. Limits to smart phones and internet porn. There’s a lot of stuff we all wish we could change. I’m sorry, but I was hired to teach them history. I can’t be their parents, too. You’ll have to pay me more for that.


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