Two candidates are vying for the presidency of the Helena Education Association in the teachers union election taking place Tuesday and Wednesday in Helena.
Helena High School English teacher Greg Wald is running against current president Tammy Pilcher, who completed the term left vacant by former president Larry Nielsen when he took another job last fall.
Both candidates bring classroom experience and long lists of various committee participation to the table. Pilcher taught for 17 years in first through fifth grades at Kessler, Rossiter and Broadwater Elementary schools. Wald is in his 18th year teaching, with 15 of those at HHS.
Pilcher has been involved with HEA for the past eight years, with six of those in leadership roles, before taking over as president for the union, which represents 720 members. She says she’s been involved in union work since she began as an educator.
“I’ve dedicated a huge portion of my life to the union and the association,” the 39-year old mother of three said.
Pilcher says Helena has the best labor relations she’s ever seen, which lend themselves to good decision making for children, teachers, paraprofessionals and the community as a whole.
“Our voice is at the table when those decisions are made,” she said. “We are involved in all sorts of decisions from budget to philosophy. HEA is a vital player in that and that’s partly because we have the relationship we do.”
She admits that didn’t happen over night, but through years of gaining trust and working collaboratively to do what’s best for all parties involved.
If elected, Pilcher says she plans to continue the ongoing bargaining that’s currently established.
“We meet once a month to address issues as they come up,” she said. “We don’t wait until collective bargaining.”
Pilcher says she’ll continue the proactive, positive relationship with the Helena School District.
“That’s what makes a difference for teachers, which makes a different for students and the community,” she said.
There are no negative issues to address, she said, but admits challenges are inevitable.
Pilcher says in an AA district she’s not surprised that the race is contested.
Wald, 48, says one of the reasons he’s vying for the seat is to give members options.
“I don’t think anybody should just by acclamation get to be the leader,” he said. “Everybody needs to have a choice.”
His three years on the Montana City School Board give him budgetary knowledge that he feels is critical to the job.
“The district’s budget is impacted directly by what happens at the state level and we aren’t looking at good times ahead,” the father of three said. “The union needs a voice that’s honest, direct and advocates for what happens in the classroom, and I know I can do that job.”
Wald describes himself as a person who’s not afraid to say the things that need to be said while standing 100 percent behind union membership.
“One of the things I’ve always thought with our union is that there’s a sense that conflict avoidance is good for conflict resolution, and I don’t agree,” he said. “I think you have to hit things head on.”
He said in a time when there is a shortage of resources, it’s critical there’s someone in the discussion that talks about how the classroom is where the rubber meets the road. Wald says there needs to be a balance between good salaries for educators as well as an appropriate number of employees to do the job.
“Education doesn’t happen in the central office or in the board room,” he said. “It happens in the classroom and that’s where the priority should be.”
Wald says he’ll advocate improving technology.
“There are some issues going on that the district has been working on, but our technology is causing more problems than giving us help,” he said.
Wald believes it’s his good relationship with central administration that would allow him to effectively advocate what educators need.
“They know I’m interested in what’s good for education as a whole, and as president I could continue that,” he said.
HEA members will vote electronically Tuesday and Wednesday on which candidate will serve the two-year term. An announcement is expected to come on Thursday.
Reporter Alana Listoe:
447-4081 or alana.