Tensions flare between Montana superintendents and state Office of Public Instruction

(Senator Steve Daines Office)
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 6:00 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The head of Montana’s office of public instruction has been under fire this month following a letter of “no confidence” by superintendents from the biggest schools in the state. On Monday, she addressed those concerns at a Richland County Republicans meeting.

State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen is a former Republican legislator who won her second term in 2020. Amid the challenges of the pandemic, her policies and decisions on supporting local control, parental input, and lifting mask mandates have divided school superintendents.

On Dec. 6, eight superintendents representing the “AA” districts in the state released a letter slamming Arntzen for her lack of leadership.

Among the complaints in the letter were a 90% turnover rate since taking office and undermining the superintendents’ efforts to combat COVID-19. In the letter they say “Your conduct destabilizes the creditability of our local schools, the same ones you are elected to represent and help and on whose behalf you are supposed to advocate.”

Speaking at the Richland County Republicans meeting in Sidney Monday, Arntzen called it a political stunt.

“They never came to me at all. They compiled a list and they determined then that it was going to be media-broadcasted immediately. Rather than seeking solutions, they wanted to point out the problems,” said Arntzen.

More letters were released last week, including one by various legislators and school board trustees in support of Arntzen. In that letter, they said that she has “consistently focused on parents and students and put power in their hands, not the hands of the unelected school bureaucrats.”

Arntzen said that turnover has been due in part to retirements and flattening agencies to make them more streamlined.

“We’ve done a great job in professionally developing our staff that we have. I started with 4 buildings and by the end of January I will be down to 2,” said Arntzen.

On this matter, Sidney Public Schools Superintendent Brent Sukut declined to comment.

Arntzen said she believes in local control and seeking Montana-grown solutions is how it should be done. She added that many educators have her cell phone and that she stands ready to assist those who ask for help.

Arntzen said during the meeting that she would be meeting with the AA Caucus in January to discuss how everyone can move forward.

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