RL school board candidates discuss budgets to security

By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, May 2, 2019
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Photo by Eleanor Guerrero
(Left to Right) School Board Candidates, Brenda Martin, Dr. Marco Restani and Wade Reynolds share their views on school issues at an open presentation and Q and A at Red Lodge High School.

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Courtesy photo

School Board Candidate 

Matthew Heaton

Four candidates are running for election to the Red Lodge School Board this month. There are two seats open. The Board held a public presentation of candidates at Red Lodge High School on Tuesday, April 23. 

The candidates include Matthew Heaton, Dr. Marco Restani, Wade Reynolds and Brenda Martin. Heaton did not show due to a family emergency but answered the questions covered later.

Dr. Bill George moderated the event. Some questions were prepared and others taken from the audience. The turnout was fair.

The candidates were asked some probing questions as well as standard questions about budget, staffing, and priorities. All the candidates except Restani, who is not a parent, have children in the Red Lodge schools system. 

Restani had a handout of his qualifications. He is a former professor and educator in wildlife biology, and has “always been striving for student success.”  He has served on Montana boards and in work has administered millions of dollars in grant funds and staffing and budgets of up to $600,000. He has made personnel decisions.  He said, “I have experience to contribute.”

Reynolds runs his own business with engineering and other services locally with 15 employees and has three boys respectively in high school, middle school and preschool. He has taught secondary education in science. He says, “I’ve seen the dynamics of a school, teachers need to be supported.”

Martin says, “My kids are so different, so my experience has been very extensive” with the schools. She holds a position in a business where she manages a staff of “plus 100.” She is involved in “hiring and firing” and works regularly with “huge budgets.” 

Heaton has been the local FWP Game Warden for 8 years. He has a degree in Wildland Recreation Management from U. of M. He manages a budget of $11,000-13,000 a year with 7-8 individual budgets and special rules for each.  

Candidates were asked to give the strengths and weaknesses of the School District.  All candidates saw low funding as a challenge and struggled for an answer to solve it. 

Restani said, “I was shocked when I looked at teachers’ salaries.” He looked at RLHS’ strategic plan. “Putting students into the position where they do something in the community…spectacular!” He said the plan was “pretty awesome but I didn’t see a timeline for completion. That’s important.” Regarding funding he said, “No answers or I’d be the Secretary of Education!”

Martin said, “All the strengths come from the children.” She would support the teachers and staff . The ability of the teachers to communicate is “off the charts.” Regarding funding she would “love the challenge.”

Reynolds said the Parent Teacher Conferences show the strengths of the school. “We should identify those strengths” and those coming with potential ideas. “My experience has been very positive; I have not seen weaknesses, but funding in Montana in general.” He noted, “We have a beautiful school, it brings a sense of pride to the whole community.” We should be mindful of the school and location as a selling point to increase student numbers and check any decreases for cause. 

Heaton said, “Strengths…I feel that we have phenomenal teachers and there are great opportunities for our students.” He was not aware of weaknesses but was sure areas could be improved. 

Each was asked to rank four topics in order of priority when making decisions that affect them: Academics, Athletics/extra curricular, Faculty/staff and Community. 

Restani listed 1. Faculty (“Because as an educator, academics derives from faculty.”), 2. Academics, 3. Athletics and 4. Community. 

Martin listed 1. Faculty (“Got to have good leaders.”), 2. Academics, 3. Athletics and 4. Community. 

Reynolds listed 1. Academics (“It’s what a school is for-education for our kids.”), 2. Faculty, 3. Community and 4. Athletics. 

Heaton listed 1. Academics (“The first priority is to students.”), 2. Faculty, 3. Athletics and 4. Community. 

All candidates struggled with STARS preschool aid being rejected by the Legislature after two successful years (36 students receiving aid this year) and Head Start nonexistent. STARS ends this year. 

Reynolds said, “My son is in STARS. My (other) son is a sophomore and was in the first year of full day kindergarten. I think things are moving in the correct direction. I would identify how to get more funding. What programs need to be cut? These are touch decisions our board has historically made.” He advised that something gets cut or they must create ideas to fund. 

Martin said, “I’m not familiar with STARS. There’s got to be a way to get the resources together or get home environment with volunteers to work with kids in the home once or two times a week. This way we can identify learning needs early and attack them as soon as possible.”

Restani said, “As a former university professor it’s way out of my element. I would first try to figure out why the money was cut. I have no idea why they would support it and then cut it. It might be an opportunity for the community to step up.” He’d look at grant money, “not necessarily in state money”, community level funding.” He said it sounds like “a really tricky problem here” to find a way to institute a program “apparently very successful and very well liked.”

Heaton said, “Multiple studies speak to the benefits of Pre-K programs and I have seen the benefits with my own son who took part in the local STARS program. I believe if it is possible, we should find a way to fund a local Pre-K program.” 

Last but not least and equally challenging was the gun issue. 

Martin said, “Red Lodge has taken great steps with push buttons on doors and cameras outside.” Her solution would be “Zero tolerance. Threats?-they’re out of school. There is no risk worth taking with all our kids’ safety. No guns in school, no guns in the car.” It’s unfair to ask teachers or administrators to “pack a gun.” She doesn’t believe it would be efficient-you’d need someone to be at every door, patrolling constantly. 

Restani said, “This is one for the ages. Peer awareness and parental awareness can play a role here.” In every case he’s heard of someone having some knowledge that some student was “a little off.” He’d like more data. He owns a gun and is a hunter. “My gut reaction is keeping guns out of school whether it’s a teacher or security guard.” 

Reynolds said, “Cameras, locks on doors, preparedness of teachers. Cameras limit them.” He noted, “A fire alarm was pulled at a basketball game.” Administrators could go back and ID the kid from the videos. “Kids going to school here know they’re in place…Our board must have thought about it.” He said, “My gut feeling is that everyone’s got mace…something like that at the front desk, non-deadly.”

Heaton was not familiar with school precautions but said, “There is a larger discussion to be had about if and how guns in the possession of qualified persons should be allowed in school. As a general rule I am hesitant to want guns in our schools but am open to discussions…”

Gender neutral facilities for bathrooms and locker rooms was another taxing question. Restani said he would like to have more discussion. He is sensitive to the issue with the many students he’s known and as a former student advisor. 

Reynolds said it’s a “tough topic” but decisions need to be made. “It’s a trend and we’d have to follow the law.”

Martin noted that her kids don’t think anything of gender differences. “I think it’s our generation, it’s more obtuse.” But she recognizes the need to provide “a safe place, gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms.”

Heaton said he would need to educate himself. “The priority is to make sure all students feel safe while in our schools. All reasonable provisions would be considered.”

With just two bathrooms on a floor, they mentioned taking turns and partitioning locker rooms.

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Upcoming Events

  • Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, August 30, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.
  • Monday, September 2, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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