Stand Up For Education rallies
rock the state!
Miles City rally report
Rally helper Maggie Copeland reports: The Miles City rally had a great turnout (over 100 people), fantastic speakers, and was altogether absolutely fabulous.
Students ranging from tiny tots to the high school choral group sang, and the middle school jazz band played. A regional basketball playoff was taking place the same night, and the radio sports announcer mentioned that a big education rally was taking place in the auditorium next door asking legislators to put more money into education. "If you ask me," he said, "that's a no-brainer!"
“Education rally reaches crowd with music and a message”
Miles City Star, March 4, 2003
Miles City Unified School District teachers greeted citizens with preprinted letters for their legislators before the Stand Up For Education rally at the Custer County District High School auditorium Monday night.
The Miles City event was one of many rallies planned across the state during the first week of March and it brought 120 citizens out in the snow-filled night to support increased funding for Montana public schools.
Tim Virag's Washington Middle School band played smart, brassy tunes as people filed into the high school's auditorium, then their spirited Star-Spangled Banner brought the crowd to its feet.
After the anthem, the rally began with a video produced by the Stand Up For Education coalition of teacher's groups, the state's PTA, school administrators, the AFL-CIO and many other educational groups supporting public schools.
The video, narrated by Montana's 2002 teacher of the year Judie Woodhouse, described the problems facing public schools, including the exodus of qualified teachers and huge increases in college tuition and presented testimonials from business leaders about the importance of education to economic development.
Rally captain Mona Bilden stepped to the lectern after the video and introduced the Stand Up For Education ideals and coalition members then welcomed the after-school kids from Raising our Community's Kids Safely. R.O.C.K.S. director Joyce Vera then led the apple-cheeked kids through a rousing patriotic medley ending with anthems from each branch of the country's armed forces.
As the kids tramped off the stage, Bilden regained the lectern and introduced local legislators Rep. Gary Matthews, D-Miles City and Rep. Ron Devlin, R-Terry. They stood and the crowd applauded their presence at the rally.
Bilden then introduced the first of the event's speakers, local businessman Tom Clarke.
Clarke emphasized the importance of education to economic development and its flip side, the importance of economic development to education. He cited the potential development of the Otter Creek coal tracts as a huge benefit to public schools in the surrounding area.
After Clarke's short address, local attorney and Custer County District High School graduate Jeanette Krutzfeldt-Jones described her college roommates who had all gone to expensive private schools. Krutzfeldt-Jones said that she felt better prepared for college than they were.
"I was better prepared with the independence and maturity level to follow through with projects," she said, and cited her zest for reading and the oral and written communication skills she acquired in Custer County schools as important tools leading to success in college and later as a lawyer.
The CCDHS Chorale, with director Terry Annalora, took the stage on the heels of Krutzfeldt-Jones's appeal for excellence over mediocrity and from their teenaged mouths poured American spirituals that overwhelmed the crowd. A string of dazzling soloists filled the auditorium with their voices and the Chorale finished their two-song performance to rousing applause.
Chorale soloist and CCDHS senior Erik Halbert spoke after his performance and in a deep and smooth voice he praised teachers that had helped him succeed and asked the crowd to spread the word to other people that kids are worth it, "We are," he said and thanked the crowd for coming to the rally.
Long-time middle school librarian Sue Stanton then identified several things older than her including dirt, the wheel, and the many teachers who would soon retire from Miles City schools, saying that filling those positions is harder and harder as more teachers leave Montana for higher-paying jobs out of state.
Stanton said a teacher today would need $27,000 to match her 1974 salary of $7200, but that Montana teachers would need five years and a Master's degree to earn that much. She praised local taxpayers for supporting mill levies but asked that the legislature find new sources of revenue to fund public schools.
After Stanton's impassioned plea, district Superintendent Jack Regan addressed the crowd. "The future is our kids," he said and urged the crowd to tell their representatives that education funding must be a priority.
Regan said that since he's been superintendent, the district cut eight teaching positions and numerous other support jobs. He said declining enrollment means less money from the state, but that energy and maintenance costs keep rising.
The district cannot raise more money through mill levies, according to Regan, because they have reached the state mandated limit on local taxes.
Regan finished by emphasizing that education is the heart of economic development and that the district still provides a top-quality education but that a crisis is approaching and the schools may not be able to keep their standards alive.
When Regan had finished, Bilden introduced, "The Garbage Men," Brendan MacNeil, Paul Glueckert, and Curtis Dickinson. They rattled six round, shiny metal garbage cans, and one square plastic refuse bin, onto the stage and wowed the crowd with their drumming skills on the booming and crashing instruments.
As the band scraped and scratched their cans off the stage, Bilden regained the podium and said, "Education is one of our strengths, we can't afford to trash it." The crowd groaned in appreciation and Bilden closed the rally by asking the crowd to fill out the letters given to them as they entered and present them to teachers in the lobby for mailing to Helena.
The rally participants gathered their letters and soon stacks of the brightly colored forms filled the lobby's tables as youngsters Drew and Adam Able and Megan Livingston handed out chocolates to the departing throng.
When asked after the rally about education funding, Representative Matthews said, "There's not been a lot of compromise this year. It's my third term and by far this has been the toughest session, but it's still early."
Representative Devlin thought the term was tough as well, saying, "We're between a rock and a hard place, we (the legislators) are only one branch and don't know what the executive branch will decide. Everybody picks the obvious areas like a tobacco tax or a bed tax (for tourists), but it will probably be a comprehensive bill that will get us through. By the time we are done there will probably be a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases from more than one or two areas."