Two GOP candidates, one Dem, running for Superintendent of Public Instruction

By: - September 5, 2023 4:49 pm

Photo illustration by Getty Images.

Two Republicans and one Democrat so far plan to campaign for Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction position in the 2024 election.

Republican Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, who is contemplating a run for Congress, will complete her second term as the head of the Office of Public Instruction next year.

Montana law prohibits candidates from seeking re-election if they’ve already served eight years within a 16-year period, as Arntzen will have done.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction is the top educator in the state and one of the officers mandated by the state’s constitution.

Republican candidates

Sharyl Allen, former deputy of the Office of Public Instruction, has registered to fundraise for the top public education post, according to the Commissioner of Political Practices. Allen, of Helena, started in the deputy role in 2020, according to her LinkedIn profile; in a phone call Friday, OPI noted she left the position last month.

Allen resigned as superintendent of Conard Public Schools in 2019 after three years on the job following criticism from parents, according to stories from KRTV. A petition from parents called for her termination one year earlier, according to change.org.

In 2013, the Grand Canyon School Board in Arizona unanimously voted to terminate Allen as superintendent without explanation, according to reporting from the Williams-Grand Canyon News. The story said parents circulated a petition critical of her leadership.

Allen did not respond to emails left Friday or Tuesday about her record or the reason she left OPI.

Montana Board of Public Education Vice Chairperson Susie Hedalen, appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, also is fundraising for the office. Hedalen, of Townsend, serves as superintendent of the Townsend School District and previously worked as deputy superintendent at the Office of Public Instruction, according to her Board of Public Education biography.

Her biography notes she has worked as an educator and administrator in class C to AA schools and secured a competitive Montana Comprehensive Literacy Grant that brought her school more than $1 million.

Democratic candidate

Sen. Shannon O’Brien, an educator who served as policy advisor to former Gov. Steve Bullock, is the only Democrat who has announced to date. O’Brien, of Missoula, earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Montana, where she later served as dean of Missoula College.

She has taught at the high school and college levels and led as a minority whip for Senate Democrats in 2023, according to her biography for state senate.

O’Brien lists former Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau as her campaign treasurer.

Prior to Arntzen’s election in 2016, Democrats held the superintendent position since 1989.

Candidates who intend to raise money to campaign must file paperwork with the Commissioner of Political Practices. Filing for office opens Jan. 11, 2024, with the Secretary of State’s Office.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.

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