Kalispell school board won't rejoin state coalition

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Kalispell Public Schools won’t be part of the Montana Quality Education Coalition’s new direction — at least in 2011.

The nonprofit organization best known for the role it played in a lawsuit against the state of Montana over school funding is reinventing itself as a grassroots support network for K-12 education. The coalition’s goal is to develop equitable, permanent and dependable funding for Montana’s public schools.

But some trustees on the Kalispell school board, which voted 6-4 against renewing the district’s coalition membership, thought other organizations the district belongs to had similar goals.

“Part of the group felt [the coalition] was replicating services already being done,” board Chairwoman Anna Marie Bailey said.

The board had discussed this potential repetition at its regular meeting in December. Kalispell Public Schools already is a member of the Montana School Boards Association and a Class AA schools coalition, both of which have platforms that could occasionally overlap with the Montana Quality Education Coalition agenda.

Some trustees also worried about the coalition’s ability to represent the broad interests of its members. Most Class AA schools are members, as are several smaller districts in Eastern Montana. The school boards association, Montana Rural Education Association, School Administrators of Montana, Montana PTA and Indian Impact Schools of Montana are also members.

Some trustees had expressed concern about not being part of the coalition should another lawsuit be brought before the state. The organization, and the school districts it represented, won a lawsuit over school funding in 2002 and sued again in 2008 for additional financial relief.

The lawsuit could be taken up again, Mark Lambrecht, the coalition’s executive director, told Kalispell trustees in December.

“If education [funding] has to go back to court, it will be through MQEC,” he said then. “There is a chance that we may need to do that this year, this spring, depending on how things go” in the legislative session.

That argument resonated with some trustees, including Ivan Lorentzen and Tom Clark, at the December meeting.

Renewing the district’s membership would have cost the district $4,000, the price all Class AA schools pay. The money would have come from interest generated through Project CRISS, a professional development program that originated in Kalispell schools but has since become a nonprofit.

The dues would not have affected the general fund budget.

Bailey voted against renewing Kalispell’s membership, as did Brad Eldredge, Eve Dixon, Alice Ritzman, Rob Keller and Frank Miller. Clark, Lorentzen, Mary Ruby and Bette Albright voted in favor of staying in the coalition.

The board is short one member; trustee John Osweiler resigned Jan. 1. The district had planned to accept applications for the position through Jan. 7, but after talking with the Evergreen and Helena Flats districts, which Osweiler represented on the high school board, Kalispell decided to postpone the closing date, Bailey said.

“Both Evergreen and Helena Flats were holding board meetings Monday and Tuesday; they wanted to be able to reach out to their communities,” she said. “They had a chat with the board and asked if we could hold off.

“They’re the ones that [the position] is representing, so we’d better do what they want,” she added.

The position will close Wednesday, Superintendent Darlene Schottle said.

Those interested in serving must be a registered voter in the Evergreen or Helena Flats district. Candidates should submit a letter of interest and a brief resume to Board of Trustees, Kalispell Public Schools, 233 First Ave. E.

The person chosen to replace Osweiler will serve until May, when the term is up. At that time, he or she will be eligible to run for re-election.

Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at kalbertson@dailyinterlake.com.

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