The inaugural meeting of Montana’s Community Choice School Commission Monday was marked by the recent withdrawal of two of its members and a brief update on the court order blocking it from conducting its most public-facing duty: approving applications for new charter schools.
Commission Chair Trish Schreiber opened the proceedings with a series of introductions, during which she and four of her fellow appointees discussed their ties to education and what they hope to contribute to the new charter school system established by House Bill 562. But two members were notably absent: Emily Hessler, a Bozeman-area math teacher appointed by Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, and Gary Carlson, a former Bitterroot Valley Community College trustee appointed by state Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, both withdrew from the commission last month.
Roughly an hour into Monday’s meeting, Arntzen issued a press release announcing Carlson’s replacement: Laurel-based water treatment technology consultant Jon Rutt. Flowers told Montana Free Press this week he’s still working to identify a new appointee.
After a routine review of the commission’s proposed bylaws, Schreiber gave the floor to a pair of attorneys from Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office for a presentation on the lawsuit challenging HB 562, which was filed by a collection of plaintiffs including the Montana Quality Education Coalition. Thane Johnson and Alwyn Lansing, who represented the state at a September hearing in the litigation, informed the commissioners that they’re currently barred from approving or denying any charter school applications.
Three intervenors joined the ongoing litigation over House Bill 562 this week, arguing that the currently blocked law is critical to their plans to open specialized choice schools in their communities.
Lansing noted that the two were present solely in an informational capacity, not to offer legal advice. But Johnson told the commission that Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Chris Abbott “did some good things” in his order partially blocking HB 562.
“He told us what he was concerned about, and the commission can cure some of those ails with good drafting of your bylaws,” Johnson said. “I would highly encourage maybe seeking some corporate counsel to assist, and then that corporate counsel can call us and we can talk about what the bylaws can do to cure the problems that Judge Abbott noted.”
Johnson also offered to recommend legal counsel to the commission and pointed commissioners to specific pages in the injunction order where Abbott laid out his concerns. Johnson added that he wished he could “be more clear,” but didn’t want to “step over the line” regarding the ongoing litigation.
Commissioner Dee Brown, a former Republican state lawmaker from Hungry Horse, later questioned whether the commission should delay adopting bylaws until it could retain outside counsel. Schreiber encouraged commissioners to proceed with voting on draft bylaws developed by Board of Public Education staff and based on the board’s own governing rules.
The motion passed unanimously, at which point Schreiber proclaimed, “We now exist.”
The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 1, with a third meeting tentatively slated for early December.
Since a homeless shelter was cleared out in November just outside of the Helena city limits, new camps made up of tents and tarps have popped up within the city parks, on sidewalks and in alleyways, sparking community concerns about public safety while also highlighting the growing unsheltered crisis.
Before Tim Sheehy was the frontrunner in Montana’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the ex-Navy SEAL, aerial firefighter, millionaire business owner, part-time rancher and occasional political donor was a 2004 graduate of a Minneapolis-St. Paul area private high school who grew up in a lake house outside Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
Missoula author Debra Magpie Earling carried the seeds of a story about Sacajewea for years. When she walked away from teaching at the University of Montana, she finally made the mental space to bring it to fruition. The result is this year’s “The Lost Journals of Sacajewea.” Earling talks about imagination and history with MTFP…