Snortland legacy is secure
During his 32 years in the Department of Public Instruction, Howard Snortland became the face of public education in North Dakota. Snortland came to the department as the assistant superintendent when it was headed by G. B. Nordrum, an appointee ...
During his 32 years in the Department of Public Instruction, Howard Snortland became the face of public education in North Dakota.
Snortland came to the department as the assistant superintendent when it was headed by G. B. Nordrum, an appointee of Gov. Fred Aandahl, and he continued under M. F. Peterson, an appointee of Norman C. Brunsdale. Even though both of these superintendents were Republicans, the office of superintendent of public instruction was still nonpartisan on the ballot and in practice.
All through his career in the Department, Snortland maintained professional neutrality when it came to politics. His nonpartisan demeanor made it possible for him to work effectively with Republicans and Democrats alike.
From the very beginning of statehood, funding the constitutional mandate of an equal education for all North Dakota children has been a challenge. And doling out the money was the job of the legislative assembly, meaning that Snortland spent many days working with the legislative leadership and committees on solutions to this chronic problem.
Armed with the insight gained during his early years as a one-room school teacher, Snortland mastered the complexities of school finance as it affected the various school districts across the state. Known for his honest presentation of the facts, he became one of the most respected and creditable leaders in the executive branch of the government as far as legislators from both parties were concerned.
Former Republican Majority Leader George Longmire of Grand Forks noted that Snortland was an "excellent official who could talk to both sides of the political aisle."
One of Snortland's proudest achievements in education finance was the formulation and passage of a new funding system for public schools adopted by the 1959 legislative session. In The Legacy of North Dakota's Country Schools, Dr. Warren Henke cited Howard's Foundation Program as a "turning point in the state's education history."
Former Democratic Gov. William Guy praised Snortland's efforts to get bipartisan support for the new funding program. Snortland's Foundation Aid Program was designed to increase state funding for education. It provided additional millions for education, meaning that thousands of children benefited from Snortland's efforts.
In 1976, Snortland was faced with a dilemma when Superintendent M. F. Peterson decided to retire from public office. By this time in the history of this nonpartisan office, both parties were endorsing candidates with "letters of endorsement." Because of Snortland's nonpartisan stance through the years, he had not developed the political base necessary to get a letter of endorsement.
Without the backing of either party, he ran without the letter of endorsement. He led a field of four candidates in the primary election, winning a spot in the general election. He eked out a close victory in November, enabling him to continue his fight for education until 1980.
Snortland's commitment to professional neutrality measured up to the North Dakota ideal. In a state with a longstanding nonpartisan culture, it was possible for him to rally bipartisan support for a foundation program that became a benchmark for state funding. .
Snortland died on May 1. His long career of outstanding public service left a legacy that will benefit children for decades to come.
Omdahl is former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org