Who Is Pulling The Strings In Our School District?



Do we really need a school board at all?

This Spring after the voters of Great Fall defeated the Great Falls Public Schools request for an operational levy totaling $1.4 million, our Superintendent of Schools, Tammy Lacey reacted by publicly stating:

“Congratulations to Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula school districts for passing their operational levies! Sorry Great Falls…the gap just got wider. By the way, Billings and Butte, the other AA districts, didn’t run levies. That makes us the only losers.”

Again, after the district administration recommendation to raise 48 administrator’s salaries by 2%, Lacey had these condescending remarks about the cause for the poor economic state of Great Falls and why many citizens opposed the raises:

“Part of the reason why (the average income in Great Falls) is low is a lack of the will of so many people in our community to go out and earn a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s degree, let alone the plus-30 credits and the college time that these people have spent in classrooms learning to get better”.

Many of those commenting on E-City Beat have asked why Lacey still holds her superintendent position.

After Lacey’s disparaging comments one would wonder if the school board trustees had any admonishment for her. To the best of our knowledge the answer is ‘no’. Of course, we have no information about what happens on the Hill behind closed doors, but we can still ask the question: If no admonishment was given by the board for the out-of-line insults directed toward those who pay the bills then who pulls the strings at the District, and do we even need a school board?

This spring’s local school election recorded a 53% registered voter turnout, which is better than the 20% to 30% average for the rest of the country, and one might say, not bad for a purposely scheduled off-cycle election.

The following is from “Opinion: ‘Elected” School Boards and the dangerous Illusion of Democracy”, by Aaron Churchill, research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

“At the very least, why aren’t they clamoring to move school elections on cycle to ensure that more citizens’ voices are heard? The answer boils down to stone-cold self-interest. You see, low turnout elections protect interest groups deeply entrenched in the public education system.

Research by Stanford’s Terry Moe demonstrates that low turnout provides and opening for special interest groups – most prominently labor unions – to capture school boards. Moe observes that district employees – those with an occupational self-interest in the elections – tend to vote at higher rates the average citizens. Depending on the district, school employees were 2 to 7 times more likely to vote than the ordinary citizen.”

Using numbers from the May 2018 school election and drawing some likely valid assumptions, I think the following conclusions can be made. The total recorded vote was 17,704, with 8,056 for, and 9,648 against. The school district lists approximately 2,000 employees who reasonably have a spouse, or significant other, the resulting directly self-interested voters could easily total 4,000. Add to that number the other associated family members most likely voting in the affirmative, say another 2,000, which would bring the total self-interested voters to around 6,000, or more.

Churchill’s article further explains: “Capturing school boards is an important goal for unions, as they will ultimately negotiate a labor agreement with the board. Given a union-friendly board, unions should be able to win managerial concessions during the collective bargaining. These could include higher salaries and favorable benefits, or job protections such as rules around employee transfers, reductions-in-force, dismissal, class sizes and grievance procedures.”

I believe evidence supports that the illustrated symbiotic relationship between the elected board members and the local education public employees union exists here in River City. Money is the common denominator in the equation and the puppet-master is the union; it pulls the strings. Taxpayers, teachers and students are merely pawns in the game.

I believe evidence supports that the illustrated symbiotic relationship between the elected board members and the local education public employees union exists here in River City. Money is the common denominator in the equation and the puppet-master is the union; it pulls the strings. Taxpayers, teachers and students are merely pawns in the game.

Some will say that the union advocates for better working conditions for its members. Really? A few years ago, I warned the president of GFEA that higher than acceptable levels of CO2 due to a 50-year non-functioning ventilation system at Great Falls High School may have been tied to a chronic respiratory condition experienced by at least one long-time teacher. I forwarded him a form used by other school employee unions to report and evaluate work environments. The GFEA president never implemented the member reporting form.

So, In this symbiotic relationship where the union is looking out for the administration and the administration is looking out for the union, and the union is looking out for the school board members who they help to get elected, and the school board members are looking out for the administration and the union, who is looking out for the taxpayers who all three see as a never ending money supply. And who is looking out for the teachers who have their positions cut in order to give administrators a raise, and who is looking out for the students who see programs eliminated?



Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Who Is Pulling The Strings In Our School District?”

  1. Mr. Faccenda, this is the first time I’ve left a reply. I usually enjoy most of what you write, but I have to disagree with this article.

    I do understand your point of view, just disagree with it. By going along this same line of thought about the “self interested voters”, then the operational levy should have passed for example. I happen to know a few district employees, and know for a fact that they voted no, and asked family and friends to vote no also. And in light of a few things that have happened over the last year or so, ( such as the first couple issues in this article) plan on probably voting no in the near future.

    So IMHO, your assumptions are off. This may hold true in other states or larger cities, I just don’t see how it can quite be that simple here. For one thing it’s a lot easier to fill the district of larger cities with mindless sheep that vote the way they’re told, act the way they’re taught and follow the same mind set. In GF the hiring pool is a lot smaller. Yes you’ll get some of those mindless sheep, but you’re more apt to get people with their own opinions that just want a job to raise their families on. (Look at that, I formed another opinion, all without a college degree! LOL)

    I know it boggles the minds of the administration that employees would vote no, but a lot of employees do have a mind of their own. They do understand what it’s like to live on a budget. They do know what it’s like to choose between buying meds, or paying their full water bill.

    They do wish that the frivolous spending would stop. But they also know that the way government works, this won’t happen until laws about such things as “use it or lose it” change, starting with the Federal Gov. then trickling down until it reaches the local school districts.

    I agree that change needs to happen. The first thing I’d like to see, is all of the people who openly complain about the school board, actually go out and vote for someone who is not an incumbent. As far as that goes, the same can be said about the city and county officials as well. (LOL)

    As for the Unions working with the Aministrators, I just don’t see what they have to gain seeing as the administration is non union, and would probably make more money if they didn’t have the Unions fighting for their members to have a piece of the pie. But of course, this is just my opinion.

    So on this issue, I’ll just agree to disagree.

    And yes I’ve got an alias, ‘cause we all know that retribution is only retribution if it can be proven.


  2. Philip Faccenda August 26, 2018 at 3:34 PM

    I agree with your noted qualifications about the large number of teachers and non-administrators. Most can think and vote for themselves, even if voting no on a levy would not seem to be in their self-interest.

    I would however, ask you to consider, what I believe to be true about the symbiotic relationship between the school district administration and the union. The previous superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Crawley, was more highly educated and more experienced that her replacement, but didn’t have the personality that many, including the union, felt was necessary to ensure a steady flow of taxpayer dollars into the district’s coffers. I do not think that the current superintendent was hired because the district, with support of the union, felt the position should be filled by an innovative thinker, a creative leader, or a logical planner. Instead, and in my opinion, the union and the board of trustees wanted someone with a pleasant smile who could be constantly out in the community selling the district and who would be successful in getting levies approved by the voters.

    The union has everything to gain if levies pass and the money keeps flowing into the district. more teachers and administrators can then be hired and salaries for union and non-union employees can move upward. The adversarial relationship between the union and the administrators that you reference, does not exist in my opinion, and that’s why the symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *