Written by Herald-News
Five candidates are challenging incumbent Wolf Point School Board members Martin DeWitt and Tracy Juve Miranda in the school election Tuesday, May 6.
Running for the school board are Lee Allmer, Yvonne Smoker Bashay, Juanita Cantrell, Lance Elliot FourStar and Perry Lilley.
The Herald-News sent questionnaires to every candidate.
Wolf Point voters will also consider two levies, a one-year $250,000 levy that would increase the building reserve and provide funding for parking lot and gym floor repairs at the high school and a $200,000 continuous elementary general fund levy that could help keep the preschool program operating.
Why did you declare yourself a candidate for the school board?
Lee Allmer: I moved back to Wolf Point to focus on my family. A natural extension of this is becoming active in the community in order to sustain or improve the environment our family lives in. Another focus is teaching my children the necessity of community service in order to preserve or improve the community we call home.
Yvonne Smoker Bashay: Community member, enrolled tribal member, local business owner, educated, and mother of two young children.
Martin DeWitt: I have declared myself a candidate for the school board because I firmly believe that a good education is essential for every student. I believe that my background professionally and as an active community member, as well as a parent of four children helps me maintain the best interests of the children of the community. It comes down to wanting the kids in our community to reach their educational potential in a safe environment.
Lance Elliot FourStar: I declared myself as a candidate for school board because I was asked to run a couple years ago. I asked guests at my community meal this past Saturday why I should be elected. Amongst the response were that I am, “Someone who is familiar with the community, also who is a fair and impartial individual.” “Because he is a good voice for the Native Children.” “Good Choice.” “So he can help our children.” “A tribal veteran who will listen and be for our children.” “I’ve known him for many years, I believe he’s honest and fair.” “We need a tribal member who will go the length for our students.” “Lance should be elected because he has a voice that can be heard and has a great heart. He cares for his people.” A couple students that attended the community event answered, “Lance Elliot FourStar should be elected for the school board because I feel like he’s doing us kids a favor.” Another student answered, “Because he’s very nice and I know he would get the job done.” After reading these responses at the time of answering these questions by the editor, the metaphorical battery to drive forward in this election has been recharged and any doubt has disappeared from my mind. I’m very happy that people would be willing to say these things about me. With that in mind, I think I should be elected because people from our community have said these things about me which gives me confidence and purpose.
Perry Lilley: I wanted to see what my chances are because there are people out there screaming that there is no representation for American Indians on the school board; and I wanted to see if these same people would come out and vote.
Tracy Juve Miranda: I am currently on the board and have really enjoyed being involved in the decision making concerning the education of our children.
Juanita Cantrell: I am an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes and I feel that education is so important. I want to be a positive role model to the students and families. I want to be a voice for our youth.
What do you hope to accomplish as a school board member?
Allmer: I believe that each of us has a unique point of view and perspective on the environment we live in. It is my goal to bring a different perspective to the table of the school board in order to build on the educational environment our children attend. It is my sincere hope to assist in providing our children with the best possible learning experience. Children must have a safe environment to learn and develop in to facilitate them having the quality opportunities later in life. We, as parents and community members, must lead by example in hopes that our children will then choose the path of higher education, and then become active in service to the communities they live in later in life.
Bashay: Develop a relationship with the city of Wolf Point and the tribes. I hope to make some policy changes and develop a strategic plan that will enable the school district to compete at a national level.
DeWitt: As a Wolf Point School board member, I hope to continue to address the budgetary needs of the district on behalf of my fellow taxpayers, while creating educational opportunities for our students that will increase the reading, literacy and mathematical proficiency of our students. I feel that we have continued to make improvements regarding the budget that will impact our financial future.
FourStar: I cannot foresee the future of the election or the various issues that will arise so I can’t make any promises other than the promise to do my best. The community has responded to this question asked what they hope I will accomplish with answers like, “Help those that are falling behind in school.” “I hope he does what he can for the kids and gives 100 percent to the kids.” “To get more Native activities and knowledge to every student, even non-Indian.” “Get more Native students more academically involved so they can play sports. The teams would get better for sure.” “To get parents more involved with their students in school.” Students answered this same question with, “He made a community feed to talk to people about how he’s going to help us kids.” “He started a community feed to tell people to make sure the student(s) are in a good environment.” If and when elected I hope to give people like these respondents hope for our children’s future.
Lilley: A. I would like to see parents take a more active role in the classrooms, to utilize our Fridays for preventative programs for children i.e. bullying, peer pressure; and to have teachers understand and learn our culture and implement it in their curriculum throughout the year.
Miranda: I would like to accomplish financial stability so we are able to provide the children with the best education possible.
Cantrell: I would like to gain more knowledge and understanding of the of the school board responsibilities, so that I can be a part of the positive impact of the future of our young people.
What do you see as being the major issues facing the school district?
Allmer: Everything in the community seems divided with very little focus on becoming the personally responsible people we need to be in order to build a better and more productive community. We must show that the path to the ultimate goal is the quality education of our children. Only then can we see them become educated, active, quality participants in the community. There can be unity in socially diverse communities when the focus is a bright future built on the success of our youth.
Bashay: High School dropout rate, potential loss of preschool program, bullying, drugs and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and lack of mentoring.
DeWitt: I feel that for our school to be the best that it can be, we always have to strive to become better. Our financial situation has to be at the forefront of every discussion as we currently have limited reserves to operate with. Beyond our budget, academic proficiency needs to be a focus to ensure that our students have the skills necessary to be successful in life.
FourStar: I have seen and see a disproportionate amount of representation in our school district on the school board when compared to the population. Going door to door a few years ago engaging in dialogue with Native American parents of children in the school district’s schools pointed this discrepancy out to me which I had also seen in person years before the lawsuit was even filed. People have told me, “Natives overwhelm the schools and are overseen by non tribals.” “Possibly racism, nepotism going on.” “Not having enough after school programs to keep them (students) active.” “A major issue I see with the school district is them not checking up or doing anything for those that skip school. There needs to be a school officer to go to the kids’ house that aren’t in school.” “Mr. FourStar will talk to these parents to get feedback.” “Attendance.” Apparently, after having discussion at length with my community, I’ve concluded that due to the lack of Native American representation on the School Board amongst other speculations, my people are being overlooked because of a racial divide which leads to truancy issues and eventually kids drop out. Maybe I can be the vehicle for change in our community as initiator of dialogue between our two communities that constitute our public school system. Our children, parents and grandparents need to understand there are people like me who are not afraid to stand up for them, I’m that man. I will use my best judgment not to be exploited by this personal attribute by those who with ulterior motives that will lead to the harm of our community and our children’s future.
Lilley: I would have to say money/funding and keeping children in school consistently. I would also like to see more open communication between the school, families and the community. We need to be responsible and respectful to each other in whatever role we play in the child’s life.
Miranda: I feel the budget shortfalls and finding affordable housing for our teachers who are new to the district are both major issues the district is facing.
Cantrell: Budgets seem to always be an issue. With the sequester we as a team have to look at the overall picture. As a school board we have to remember we are there for the best interest of our youth. We need to engage the community to get involved with our schools. We need to look out for the safety of our students. We need quality education for our youth.
What areas of the school system do you feel are the most in need of improvement? How would you address those areas?
Allmer: I am personally of the opinion that there are some written policy shortfalls within the school district. Certain problem areas such as attendance have been placed ahead of, or unfairly augmenting true academic progress. While I understand the need to get students to comply with attending school, I do not feel it should be part of their grade. There should be some thoughtful implemented policy on how to bring attendance into compliance without feeding free grades to those not meeting academic standards. Additionally, the school district must be more proactive in limiting possible harmful substances or devices from entering the schools. Even if the FDA has yet to establish control of E-Cigarette usage, they do not belong in the halls of the school. Of course substances controlled by federal, state and local authorities must have a non-tolerance policy. I also think that the school board and school district itself could be more interested in student input on policies affecting them. Everyone feels better, and works harder, when they feel they have a voice in the matters impacting to them.
Bashay: Transportation, before and after school program, and administrative policies and procedures. I would address these areas by fixing the policies and procedures and gaining additional funding.
DeWitt: Expectations of all our staff and students should continually be improved and addressed in order put our students in the best educational situation. Increasing our expectations can ultimately increase our academic proficiency. In order to achieve this, I would work with the rest of the board to stress the importance of expectations and ensure the superintendent implements those standards of expectations. If we strive for perfection we can be great.
FourStar: I feel funding is always an issue. I will help steer our Board of Trustees in the right direction through motions with this intention when making them, supporting them or opposing motions that are detrimental to keeping the school in the black or out of a perpetual cycle of redirecting funds from essential programs and funneling them into programs overfeed off of our budget and result in wasteful spending.
Lilley: I feel we need to improve our academics and take a good look at how the students learn, not just what they are learning.
Miranda: I believe the facilities are most in need of improvements and hopefully we can get a mill levy passed to help with the funding of future updates.
Cantrell: I feel that we as community need to encourage our youth the importance of education. We also need accountably and responsibly from the parents to push for education and attendance of school. I feel that we need to work closely with the tribes in regards to keeping our Native American youth in school. I want to see success and completion of school and to see our youth to go on to college and succeed in life. I struggled with my education however I went on to obtain my Master’s degree. I would continue to support parents, faculty and administration.
What areas do you feel have the most and least needs for spending by the school district?
Allmer: The area most in need of attention is academics. Without a solid academic base, a student can not be successful in higher education, nor will they have as many opportunities later in life. While we fund many non-necessary trips to have fun and reward students for doing well, they are non-essential. It will be nice when we can say that overall Wolf Point is graduating the best students possible, but I’m hard pressed to think of why pizza and bowling trips for reading are necessary. Neither colleges nor employers later in life are going to fund trips for simply doing your studies or job. We need to quit teaching children there is an extra benefit for doing the minimum required study. We also need to teach our youth that effort will be required by them to maintain activities they wish to participate in both now, and later in life. Sports and club boosters, with student help, would be welcomed by area businesses and community members. Students can lend assistance with community projects and these events are potentially lucrative to the school and free up funds. Unfortunately our youth overall are being taught that someone else will provide, and they don’t have to lend much personal effort into funding activities they wish to participate in. The same can be said about the parents of the students participating in these activities.
Bashay: Most-IT security, mentoring, professional training. Least-unnecessary renovations.
DeWitt: With available funding, increasing educational opportunities for the students is of the most need. We need to be able to maintain the programs that we currently have and look for areas of growth, when appropriate. Professional development is certainly important, but if there are budgetary concerns, we may need to reconsider the approach to providing professional development and look at bringing it to Wolf Point rather than traveling to training.
FourStar: I asked our community members the same questions, they answered with, “Getting a program for kids who need rides to school.” “hopefully get more after school activities for students and parents.” I am aware of the amounts of money our school district receives from the federal government for the amount of enrolled members of federally recognized tribes, or the annual head count. These essentially means that every single federally taxed citizen of the United States of America is being taxed each year in order for our school’s to operate, for the salaries of each employee of the district in any capacity to be paid, for the maintenance and care of our facilities are met in order for the district to operate properly. My great-great-great grandfather, Chief Red Stone, signed the treaty between my people and the United States government which led to our reality today. I have a legacy to carry as his descendant and each and every one of you do too for the sacrifices Native and Non-Native people made to survive the harsh conditions living in what has become Wolf Point, Montana on the Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation and is also known as, “Tabexa Wakba,” in the Assiniboine language since time immemorial.
Lilley: I would like to spend more money on academics; with more higher learning opportunities for juniors and seniors, as well as working with students of any age who are at risk/failing and get them on the right track. I would have to take a good look at the budget to get a feel of what would need to be cut. I do not see the school spend a lot of money without good cause. The cost of the recent lawsuit is really going to hurt the school budget, so this would be a major task for the school board to find the money, because someone has to pay for it.
Miranda: I feel the salaries and benefits of the districts employees are very important so we can retain and hire good employees. I feel the extracurricular activities are the least in need of spending even though I think they are very important.
Cantrell: I would have to see the operational budget before I could comment to this question.
If any programs need to be cut in the future due to a budget shortfall, what would you cut first, second and third?
Allmer: Non-essential trips and spending should be cut in the event of shortfalls. We must quit the perpetuation of the attitude that debt spending is permissible and necessary. If the funds are not there, we should go without and focus on the matters that can be funded. Mainly this includes funding academics. After all, these are schools, by definition academic learning environments for our children. From a different point of view, while it is nice to take our families to Glasgow for bowling and pizza at times, it does not make sense to borrow money from your extended family and neighbors to pay for the gas to get there and participate in the activities. Budgets must be developed and followed not just in family life, but in all areas, even school districts.
Bashay: Non-essential building renovation, some of the non-traditional extra-curricular activities, and some electives.
DeWitt: I believe you cannot answer this question as an individual. In order to accommodate a response, input from community, staff and board members should be acquired to prioritize the needs of the district and determine where cuts, if necessary, should be made. If they are necessary, cuts would have to begin in areas or programs that are not mandated by the state of Montana.
FourStar: I will utilize my best judgment in this matter, and will make the best decisions to avoid a downward spiral of shortfalls leading to a first, second, third, fourth, fifth or more programs that will be cut. All programs are important and should not be cut if sound budgeting is performed by the powers that be.
Lilley: This is a hard one. No one wants to cut programs. I would have to look at the pros and cons for each program and how beneficial each program is for the students. Instead of cutting, I would work hard at finding ways to raise the money.
Miranda: With the budget shortfalls that the district has already had to face, I feel we have made all the cuts we can.
Cantrell: I cannot answer this question either, I would need to review the budget.
Do you feel staffing levels among certified and non-certified staff are adequate? Too high? Too low?
Allmer: I don’t have solid numbers or comparatives on this subject to assess it adequately at this time. I do however believe there is not an educator, nor public school employee that went into their current field believing that they would have an easy time, or that their chosen field of employment was a get rich proposition. For most educators, councilors and administrative staff of public institutions, their job is a labor of love. Ultimately their chosen field is infinitely more personally fulfilling than lucrative. We need to attempt to empower non-certified staff to become certified, with the knowledge that as they grow in their career, our youth will feel a positive impact. Through retention of the improved employees, the employees themselves will also feel self accomplished and more adequately up to the task of assisting the community in building strong youth minds.
Bashay: No, I feel they are too low.
DeWitt: Based on our existing budget compared to current available programs our staffing levels are adequate. If there were a time in the future when our district became financially sound again, I would love to see opportunities added for our students.
FourStar: I think that the infrastructure in place isn’t working from the top, down. If it was a perfectly working machine, the students that begin on our school district would be the same students who graduate 12 years later. At it’s best, our school district will be attracting employees who understand and adequately educate each and every student regardless of class or race preparing them for the military, a trade school, tribal colleges, universities and eventually leading them back to our community to educate their children.
Lilley: Anyone would benefit from improvement, but I do believe that the school staff is adequate.
Miranda: I feel they are currently adequate, but if we have to continue to cut it’s going to start affecting the education of the children.
Cantrell: I feel that I would want the highest level of educators assisting and educating our students.
Do you have any relatives employed by the school district? If so, how many and who?
Allmer: I do not have any relatives employed by the Wolf Point School District. I do have a sister-in-law employed by the Houston Independent School District.
DeWitt: Yes, I have two family members currently employed by the Wolf Point School District. My wife, Melissa DeWitt, is currently a fourth grade teacher and my mother, Diane DeWitt, is a kitchen staff member.
FourStar: Being an enrolled member of the Assiniboine Tribe, all of my people are related to me. However, I do not have any relatives within my immediate family.
Lilley: I do not have any relatives that are employed with the school district.
Miranda: My sister and brother-in-law are both teachers in the district. My mother is also a paraprofessional.
Cantrell: I do not have any relatives employed by the school district.
How many children or grandchildren do you have currently attending local schools? How many attended in the past?
Allmer: I have a child in ninth grade in Wolf Point High School and a child in sixth grade in Frontier School.
Bashay: One current, one future.
DeWitt: I currently have four children attending Wolf Point Schools.
FourStar: I have nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren and relatives attending our schools. I am the father of seven children, six of my children have attended the Wolf Point Schools.
Lilley: I have three sons that are attending local schools. I have numerous relatives that attend/have attended Southside, Northside, and Junior High/ High School. I myself grew up here in Wolf Point and attended the school as well.
Miranda: I currently have a son in high school and a daughter in junior high.
Cantrell: I have had four children that have attended school at the High School level. I have to grandson who will in the future be a part of the local schools.
Are you a retired or past employee of the school district? How has that prepared you to serve on the school board?
Allmer: I am not a retired or past employee of any school district. I do serve currently as a member and chairman of the Roosevelt County Local Emergency Planning Committee. I believe through this I have learned how to ask, and to be asked, difficult questions by a variety of parties. I have also learned to work diligently to address and/or resolve problems through logical self education and cooperative reasoning.
DeWitt: I have not been employed by the school district.
FourStar: I was the chairman of the Wolf Point Indian Education Committee in the past on a voluntary basis which has allowed me to understand some of the issues at hand. I am prepared to serve on the school board beginning my very first job working for Senator John McCain in the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institute, the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the United States Army, the Wolf Point Community Organization, the Assiniboine Council, the Fort Peck Community College Board of Directors. The military built a foundation in what is known as the, “Seven Army Values”: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selflessness, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage, I hope to project these values as a member of the Wolf Point School Board of Trustees. Thank you John for asking these very thought provoking questions. I appreciate your time and coverage to this election.
Lilley: I have not worked for the school district, but have taken an active role in my children’s schooling by attending activities, meeting and talking with staff and teachers, and attending school events. I also talk with other parents and students about school issues and listen to their comments and concerns.
Miranda: I have never been employed by the school district.
Cantrell: I have never worked for the school district; however, I was a member of the Fort Peck Tribes Tribal Education board of directors.