School board candidate questionnaire: Eric Hinebauch

Name: Eric Hinebauch

Age: 34

Occupation: Self-Employed, Insurance Agent (Farmers Union Insurance)

Relevant experience: Heisey Community Center, Advisory Board; MT Farmers Union Local, Officer; Volunteer coach for several age groups; Business owner

Q: Why are you running for school board?

A: All sectors of the Great Falls School District should be represented on its board. As a young business owner, I can give a perspective that is currently lacking from the school board.

Q: If elected, what would be your top three priorities? What do you think are the biggest challenges facing GFPS for the next three years (the length of a term)?

A: I have chosen to combine these two questions because the biggest challenges should also be our top 3 priorities, which are: technology, graduation, and support.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought to light the need for investing in technology. We must give our teachers the needed tools to educate students, even if this is outside of school buildings, like we are facing now. Providing students with access to technology will help students now, as well as prepare them for the future.

Second, we must continue to work on the district’s efforts to improve graduation rates. There is a significant gap between the number of students in our elementary schools and ultimately in our high schools. What has happened to these students? Did they move? Do they have employment? This disparity impacts the level of funding GFPS receives from the state, as well as the community and growth of Great Falls.

Finally, our teachers deserve competitive salaries. I want our teachers to stay in the GFPS system and not move to another district where their skills make it easier for them to support their families. Teachers care deeply about their students but should not have to reach into their own pockets to furnish their classrooms. This is admirable but it must stop. We need to increase our teachers’ pay and ensure that they have the materials they need to instruct in their classrooms.

Q: What do you think are the three biggest strengths of the district?

A: First and foremost, our district staff, which has become even more evident through the current crisis. Across the district the entire GFPS team, in every department, has demonstrated great versatility in their ability to serve our students throughout this difficult time.

Second, our facilities.  We asked the taxpayers of Great Falls to support a bond that resulted in needed upgrades across the district. The GFPS facilities are now a great point of pride in our community. I look forward to witnessing the completion of these projects, such as Longfellow Elementary.

The third strength is the wide range of students our district serves, which speaks to the highly-skilled staff we have working in our district who work tirelessly to educate ALL students.

Q: How would you approach budget in terms of balancing costs with available resources?

A: I do not know the ins and outs of the GFPS budget. I pledge that if elected, I’d insist on a line-item budget and would thoroughly explore “the needs” and “the wants”. This is a question that can only be answered from experience.

Q: How would you interact with staff to learn about GFPS operations, education regulations and stay informed about the items you are being asked to vote on?

A: I would keep an open mind and ask a lot of questions. I will put in the necessary work and research in order to be an informed board member before making a vote. This position requires one to be in a constant state of learning. I don’t believe any one person has all the answers to the challenges the district has and that we should always seek information on how to achieve better results. Information is learned not only from reading laws and regulations but also from talking to teachers, students, parents, businesses, and community members. I can always learn something from interactions with others, whether they are a familiar face or someone I just met. I’m an extrovert. I thrive on interpersonal relationships because they are the greatest learning tool.

Q: How would you communicate with the public to hear their concerns and keep them informed about GFPS operations?

A: One the most important responsibilities of a school board member is to inform and educate the public. I believe that our community, if given correct, unredacted information will support our district.

Q: How do you think the district has handled the COVID-19 school closures and what kind of long-term impact do you think it will have on the district?

A: The district has done a remarkable job of handling this crisis. The COVID-19 has brought to light a need to have technology available to all students and staff. We also need to invest in our teachers to give them access to professional development to ensure that they have the resources and training they need to teach in this ever-changing world. Our teachers, families, and community have proven that when we work together, we can face any challenge. I am immensely proud of GFPS and our community. These times are tough, but we will get through this.

Q: An operational levy is on the May 5 ballot, along with these school board seats. Recognizing that unless you’re an incumbent you don’t have a say on whether it should be there, but what is your view on the use of operational levies for school funding?

A: It is necessary due to the nature of public education in Montana, it is the hand GFPS was dealt by the state and federal government.