House District 70 Candidates: April Buonamici (D), Kery White (R), Christopher Burke (Ind.)

1) To what extent will you combat financial barriers (i.e. rising tuition) that students face in their pursuit of higher education?

BUONAMICI: Education should be the number one priority in this state. Currently, prisons are the number one expense in Montana and education is number three. I will do everything I can to make education our top priority, including keeping tuition costs where they are now or lower.

BURKE: I will support legislation that will ensure affordable, fair and equitable conditions for all students to not only pursue, but to complete their higher education without the concern of overbearing debt.

2) Montana State University just completed a long-term strategic plan which includes calls for raising enrollment by 2,000, increasing faculty pay to 80 percent of the national average, priority budgeting and enhancing the student experience. What steps can Montana’s lawmakers take to assist in the pursuit of MSU’s goals?

BUONAMICI: One complaint I have heard when I canvass door to door is that the university is able to hide many expenditures. Taxpayers have the right to know where their money is being spent. I propose that greater transparency be required of the university. Since all funds at MSU are public funds, all departments should be required to post their income and outgo online. If one department can look at another’s expenditures, they may find ways to save more by purchasing in bulk or be able to find a lower priced supplier that another department is already using. Private companies may be able to lower their bids if they know what items are being purchased and how much is being spent for that item. Students themselves can also monitor which fees they feel enhance their experience, and which fees are covering services that are not being used.

BURKE: It is the legislature’s obligation under the state constitution to insure that all public education is properly funded. It is the Board of Regents’ obligation to prioritize and allocate that funding in the best interest of the students and faculty. The legislature must continue to keep higher education a priority, meet its obligations and work closely with the Board of Regents to move our universities forward.

3) Are Montana’s universities spending student and public money efficiently?

BUONAMICI: Without being able to look at the university’s accounting figures, there is no way to know if that money is being spent efficiently. I have never understood why MSU is allowed to require students to have health insurance and make them pay an extra $800 per semester if they don’t. That’s one expense I know of because I had to fill out forms for each of my sons to prove that they had insurance when they were students at MSU, but I’m sure there are other expenditures that I would question if I could see where the money actually goes. I believe the price of textbooks is exorbitant and that the university should make an effort to bring this price down. More text materials should be posted online or accessible as a disk rather than as a high-priced book. Textbooks that will be obsolete by the end of the semester should be on the computer, so they can be easily updated and used by the next semester’s class. When a professor doesn’t intend to use one or more of the standard books on the bookstore list for that class, he should be allowed to say so to prevent students from buying a book which they do not need.

BURKE: Because I have not had the opportunity to assess the current state of spending within the university system, I cannot make an educated analysis of how money is being spent. If elected, I will make every effort to ensure public money is being used in the most efficient way possible to maintain and improve the education of our students.