Helena awards TAG grants at city council meeting, Hillsboro returns money

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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HELENA – The city of Helena invited local teachers and school administrators to Helena City Hall to receive teachers assistance grants at a regularly scheduled city council meeting on Monday, April 8, but it came with controversy after the grants were presented.

Although 32 teachers across four schools were awarded TAG grants, teachers at The Hillsboro School, a private school, returned the money after backlash from the community later that night.

The TAG Team grant is a teachers assistance grant program, awarded biannually, that was developed in April of 2021. Since its inception, the TAG Team grant has awarded $495,613.66 to 206 teachers in Helena during seven iterations.

Helena Mayor Brian Puckett shared that the idea behind the grant is for teachers to make specific requests for additional resources, so that the council could then award money directly.

“Right after this administration took office, the first thing we wanted to do was get funding into your hands as teachers to be able to assist your students,” Puckett said. “These (grants) are ways that the teachers can get things in their classroom that they can’t necessarily go to the school for like extra tools and flexible seating. There’s a lot of different things that happen that these teachers request grants for.”

Teachers individually apply for the TAG Team grants and a committee—consisting of Puckett, Councilmember Alice Lobell and librarian Dan Dearing—selects which requests are approved.

“We spent about three hours last week going through every one of these (requests) to make sure that we did the best we possibly could with the funding,” Puckett said.

Originally, the city council awarded $57,218.56 to 32 teachers from schools across the city, including Helena Elementary School, Helena Intermediate, Helena High School and The Hillsboro School. Additionally, Helena Elementary School, Helena Middle School, Helena Intermediate School and Helena High School each received $25,000 for school use.

Residents, however, took to social media on Monday night following the council meeting to share their displeasure with the city using money from the 1-cent sales tax to fund anything related to a private school, many saying it should only go toward public schools in the city limits.

During the city council meeting, Puckett, who is a member of the Board of Trustees for The Hillsboro School, commented on Hillsboro.

“The Hillsboro School is a Montessori school that we have here in Helena,” Puckett said. “We want to make sure that we are giving back to it just like all of the other schools. We take pride in every educational avenue that our kids can have, whether it be in a public setting or a private setting.”

Because The Hillsboro School is a private educational institution that charges students tuition, many said that it should be ineligible for TAG Team grants and that the money should go toward public schools.

In an update on Facebook posted on Tuesday afternoon, the city of Helena said that the two teachers from The Hillsboro School were initially awarded $425.32 to purchase literacy materials for their classrooms, but that the funds would be returned.

“Although no laws or ethical standards were broken, the city has worked with the Hillsboro School to return the $425.32 along with the funds awarded to teachers in November,” the statement read.

When asked to comment on Tuesday, Puckett said, “The TAG Team Grant continues to provide funding to teachers for direct use in their classrooms and, as a city, I am excited we get to do that. The goal is to always do everything we can to assist our school.”

Hillsboro teachers were also rewarded $11,144.27 during the November 2023 round of TAG grants. The city said in its statement that it is working with Hillsboro School to also get that money returned.

Councilmember Hewy Woodman released a statement on social media two days after the council meeting. His goal was to dissuade the public from believing that the council members were being forced to remain silent on the issue.

“I do think this is a bad situation, it makes the city look bad and takes attention away from the teachers,” Woodman said. “Tax dollars belongs to the residents and not city hall. Hold us accountable. Helena is an amazing city with incredible schools, good businesses, and we fix what isn’t working right.”

In addition, Councilmember Alice Lobell made her own statement on Facebook on Wednesday after spending all of Tuesday in Montgomery with the Helena Teen Council.

“The TAG Team Grants are meant to be a good thing…awarding money to teachers to purchase specific items for their students and/or classroom,” Lobell said. “The council did nothing wrong intentionally; we believed we were acting in good faith for the students. Everyone has 20/20 hindsight. Going forward I can assure you the council will work diligently to adjust our selection process and make sure proper safeguards are in place.”


The breakdown of the teachers who received TAG grants is below:

Helena Elementary School: $16,083.70 was awarded to 13 teachers

-HES, Amanda Brown, Second Grade, six Marco Group Apex tables

-HES, April Maner, Assistant Principal, desks and chairs

-HES, Betty Ansley, Second Grade, Marco Group Apex tables

-HES, Christin Brown, First Grade, Marco Group table and storage bins

-HES, Dana Ling, Second Grade, desk tables

-HES, Demi Ruble, Second Grade, Marco Group Apex table and storage bins

-HES, Jenni Shackelford, First Grade (Not Present)

-HES, Katy Haley, Kindergarten additional tables and chairs for flexible seating

-HES, Olivia Toth, First Grade collaboration tables

-HES, Sabrina Nolen, Kindergarten tables and chairs

-HES, Stephanie Allen, First Grade bookshelves

-HES, Susannah Moreland, Kindergarten flexible seating

-HES, Tammie Moore, Second Grade, new vacuums for the custodians

Helena Intermediate School

-HIS, Amanda Clowers, Special Education Teacher, Steelcase turnstone buoy seats

-HIS, Carol Fields,  beanbag chairs, chair bands and rocking chairs

-HIS Hailey Morris, Special Education Teacher, Naturally encore series books

-HIS, Jessica Sockwell, Fine Arts Teacher, gel plate rollers, print supplies, LEGO plates

-HIS, Madsion Cancienne, Fifth Grade, iPad and apple pencil

-HIS, Melynda Parker, Fifth Grade, (Not present)

-HIS, Renee Scott, Third Grade, markerboard tables and stools

-HIS, Rita Sparks, Gifted Resource Teacher, 10 new Chromebooks and licenses

-HIS, Sasha Baker, Principal, for herself and seven other administrators and teachers to able to participate in Stepping Stones to a Blue Ribbon School

“This is the conference that the elementary school did last December to be able to start progressing towards that Blue Ribbon School (status),” Puckett said. “Now, it’s great to see the intermediate school following in its place.”

Helena High School

-HHS, Chelsey Hosmer, Special Education Teacher, flexible seating and sensory furniture

-HHS, Donaldson Dover, Health Teacher, continued subscription for catapult vests

-HHS, Kindall Cornelius, English Teacher, iPads, Apple pencil and Apple TV

-HHS, Mark McDonald, Math Teacher, tools for the math team

-HHS, Michelle Griffin, Spanish/ELA, calm strips

-HHS, Michelle Wilson, Library Media Special, supplies to make 100 additional book subscription boxes

-HHS, Richard Green, Fine Arts Teacher, 75 inch View Sonic smartboard and a rolling cart