By Ashleigh Costello

MISSOULA, Mont. – A high school student is asking Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Alex Apostle to reject a pay increase that would make him the highest-paid AA school district superintendent in Montana.

dollarandcoinsHellgate High School senior Yetta Stein, whose father is a teacher in the district, posted an online petition Wednesday night calling for Apostle to reject a 13 percent pay raise, reports the Missoulian. By Thursday afternoon, the petition had roughly 150 signatures.

“We wrote it because we’re really fed up with how the school board and Dr. Apostle are dealing with money,” said Stein.

The board voted 6-4 last week in favor of a three-year contract that retroactively increases Apostle’s salary from $155,000 to $175,000 for the current school year. Apostle will also receive a $10,000 raise next year and a $15,000 raise in the 2014-15 school year, ultimately boosting his salary to $200,000, according to the news site.

“This is a matter of the board being responsible and responsive,” MCPS Board Chairwoman Toni Rehbein said Tuesday. “We have a superstar as a superintendent, and we need to keep him and keep moving forward.”

Missoula Education Association President Melanie Charlson expressed disappointment with the board’s decision.

“Every other employee in this district received a 2 percent salary increase, and all saw an increase in insurance premiums,” Charlson said. “We were told one story throughout the summer—that there was no more money available. We thought we were gaining ground and being fair. To have this come around six months later—it’s shocking.”

Asked about the difference in negotiated raises, Rehbein stood by the board’s decision.

“A 1 percent [raise] for all teachers costs $1 million,” Rehbein said. “A $20,000 raise is a small amount of money when you look at the overall budget.”

But many students say that money could be put to better use.

Sentinel High School senior Maddy Roy told the Missoulian Apostle should take the money going towards his raise and use it to fund fine arts, foreign languages and other existing programs.

“There’s science behind the fact that fine arts help education, and yet it is the first thing to be cut,” Roy said. “He could use it (the money for the raise) toward tutoring programs to help kids who are struggling, and for extracurricular activities like speech and debate. I don’t think it’s more constructive in Dr. Apostle’s pocket.”

School districts throughout the nation are struggling financially, and that’s apparently the case in the Missoula district, as well. Reports of massive budget cuts, teacher layoffs, and loss of student programs are all too common.

At a time when many districts are asking taxpayers for more money and for teachers to take pay cuts or smaller raises, school administrators – particularly superintendents – should be leading by example.

We applaud Stein and the other students for being aware of a legitimate community issue, and encourage Apostle to consider their concerns.

If Apostle keeps the money, the petition urges community members not to re-elect Rehbein and “all members of the school board not serving in the best interests of the students of Missoula.”

Apostle has been superintendent since 2008.

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