An often forgotten cog in our school’s is the representation provided by a group of unpaid, uncompensated indivuduals working as the voice of our children: The School District 10 Board of Trustess (more commonly referred to as the School Board). I asked board chair Steve Tozzi to provide a little information about what the trustees do for the district. He drafted the following letter to describe it in detail.
After the letter, I had a question and answer sessioin with Mr. Tozzi to clear up some of the other things he and the board have been up to. Enjoy!
The Anaconda SD-10 Board of Trustees (by Steve Tozzi)
The Board of Trustees of the Anaconda School District #10 is a governmental body established by the laws of the State of Montana. Montana law also defines the general powers and duties of the school board. Generally, the board oversees the district’s affairs involving student’s education, personnel and property. To that end, trustees have responsibilities to adopt curriculum, employ, supervise and evaluate a superintendent, and approve an annual budget.
The primary purposes of the board are setting district goals and policies, and ensuring resources, strategies, budgets and policies are aligned with those goals. Common activities of the board include approving major purchases, participating in the screening and selecting of candidates for administrative staff positions, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, student expulsions, approving the hiring of administrators and faculty, renewing and non-renewing of employment contracts, approving contracts with outside providers, and canvassing school board trustee and mill levy elections. The board has regular monthly meetings, however much of the work of the board is accomplished by committee meetings, which are also publicly held. Standing committees include Personnel, Buildings and Grounds, Curriculum and Activities, and Finance. These committees make recommendations to the full board for action. The board has final say on settling grievances and disputes, but only after the issue has made its way through the grievance or uniform complaint procedure, which starts at the building principal and progresses to the superintendent before being brought before the board for a vote.
Trustees are elected to three-year terms by the voting public of Anaconda Deer Lodge County. State law mandates all meetings of the board are to be properly noticed and held in public, except in cases where the need to protect individual privacy or litigation strategy exist. Individual trustees have virtually no authority to take action as individuals, and the authority they do possess is limited to expressing opinion, debating issues and casting votes at a public meeting of the board.
Current makeup of the board is as follows: board chair Steve Tozzi, vice-chair Lisa Crum-Petritz, and trustees Amy Verlanic, Bryan Lorengo, Michael Huotte, Glenda Crum and Nick Mikalatos.
Take a little time to meet Mr. Tozzi
Question: It has been an abnormally busy summer for you and the board due to the campaign for the mill levy (which was approved), can you explain why you thought it was imperative to fight for it the way you did?
Tozzi: We knew this levy was profoundly important to our district. Numerous projects have been identified for needed repair. Given the sewer rate increase, we knew it would be an uphill battle getting voters to support yet another tax hike. So using the all-volunteer vehicle of Friends of SD10, no stone was left unturned in getting the message out as to the importance of passing this levy, and in conveying why the money was needed. Without the levy, important upgrades such as windows, roofing and heating would not be addressed with the limited general maintenance budgets. The reality is federal funding for education is drying up in the face of soaring national debt. SB175 passed through the partisan process during legislative session and came out the other end as a watered down bill. Enrollment has been steadily declining in Anaconda, which directly affects our state funding. The taxpayers must step up and provide additional financial support if they wish to have quality and modern schools. SD10 has not asked taxpayers for an additional dime in 17 years, so the request is not an unreasonable one, especially when considering how many districts statewide currently have mill levies. The education of our children is one of the best investments we as a community can make in our future, and should therefore be a top priority. However, the board of trustees would not have unanimously authorized the mill levy election had there not been a compelling case made for the need for it.
Question: Of course providing a safe learning environment for your students is Job 1 being on the board. How do you and the other members go from brainstorming your ideas into making policy? Is it an easy process such as, does the board all have the same goal in mind?
Tozzi: Generally speaking, the trustees are like-minded in setting policy that is in the best interest of students. Occasionally, there is disagreement on what is best, and this is a healthy aspect of any board, as it allows all sides to be heard in open debate. One redeeming quality of the current board is the willingness of trustees to make data-driven decisions. In most cases, hard data can neutralize emotion and result in rational decision-making. Trustees, with the help of administrators, seek data from OPI, MTSBA and other districts in compiling comparison data for a wide variety of policy and budget issues.
Question: One of the most fulfilling things in any walk of life is knowing your work is appreciated. Speaking of the Yea vote last week, that must ring truer than ever. Your thoughts?
Tozzi: Personally, I do not seek recognition or appreciation as a board member. Anyone who does is bound to be sorely disappointed. What is fulfilling to me is volunteering my time and effort towards making a difference and getting positive results. The “yea vote” was enormously rewarding because I knew it was the right thing for Anaconda and SD-10. It would not have been a big deal to get it passed in a thriving, affluent community, but in a struggling town like Anaconda, the fact it did pass is a testament to the great people of Anaconda who support their children and embrace our vision for the best possible learning environment. As a trustee and parent of a child entering the school system this Fall, the feelings of elation and hope for our future I felt when I heard the final vote tally were indescribable. It made all the effort worthwhile.
Question: Any things you’re working on with the Mill Creek TIFID (Tax Increment Financial Industrial District) debacle or other notable projects in the future?
Tozzi: The TIFID matter is mostly out of our hands as a board. Our legal team from MTSBA, along with the Superintendent, is working on the discovery phase of the legal proceedings. We are hopeful and optimistic we will prevail. Noteworthy items we are involved in are union contract negotiations, strategic planning/goal setting, finalizing the budget for the upcoming year and transitioning to the future opening of the AWARE Center for Excellence.