Baesler, Potter advance in DPI race

BISMARCK — Kirsten Baesler and Tracy Potter have secured the two spots on the November ballot in the superintendent of public instruction race.

Baesler of Mandan received 41,256 votes, or 37.3 percent, in the nonpartisan race, according to complete but unofficial results.

Potter of Bismarck received 35,891 votes, or 32.4 percent. Max Laird of Bismarck finished third with 33,289 votes, or 30.1 percent.

The race was close throughout Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Baesler told supporters she was excited to continue working hard and spreading her message across the state.

“It was humbling for me to see the extent of interest in education throughout this initial phase of our campaign,” she wrote on her campaign Facebook page.

Potter said he was pleased with the results and thinks his campaign is positioned well for the fall.

“Now I’m looking forward to a fun campaign. It’s going to be great,” he said.

Laird did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

For the first time since 1980, current Superintendent Wayne Sanstead was not on the ballot after deciding earlier this year to retire.

Baesler won Republican support for the nonpartisan office during the party’s convention, while Laird received Democratic support. Potter said he wanted to honor the spirit of the nonpartisan office and did not seek support from the Democratic Party.

The state superintendent serves a four-year term and has an annual salary of $102,868. The salary increases to $105,954 on July 1.

Deadline nears for school bullying policies

BISMARCK – Schools across the state are taking an approach often used by students: waiting until the last minute to turn in their homework.

The state Department of Public Instruction has received only 74 bullying policies of the 235 required to be turned in by July 1.

The Legislature officially gave the assignment on March 17, 2011, after the Senate gave final approval to a law requiring school districts to have bullying policies. Both public and private schools fall under the law.

The state Department of Public Instruction does not have authority to sanction school districts if they don’t turn in policies, said Valerie Fischer, director of safe and healthy schools. However, the department will publicize any that don’t, she said.

“We believe, between the School Boards Association and the department, we have provided resources and training so there really is no reason why it shouldn’t be done,” she said.

Bill sponsor Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, thinks districts likely got busy at the end of the school year and put off officially turning in their policies. She thinks schools will be on board by July 1 even though there isn’t punishment for not complying.

“There’s a number of policies where we say you have to do something and there’s really no punishment if they don’t do it,” she said. “I think that the schools are seeing this is something that they need to have in place.”

The public school districts in Hillsboro, West Fargo, Fargo, Wahpeton, Valley City, Jamestown, Dickinson and South Heart are among those that have submitted policies to the state.

Central Cass Schools in Casselton is one district that hasn’t turned in a policy yet. Superintendent Mark Weston said the policy is done.

“Ours is just a matter of getting it to the department,” he said.

About 20 people participated in creating the district’s bullying policy, which is similar to a template provided by the North Dakota School Boards Association, Weston said.

Grand Forks Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson also said his district will meet the July 1 deadline. A final review of the district’s policy is set for June 18.

The state law says school districts needed to involve parents, school employees, volunteers, students, law enforcement, domestic violence sexual assault organizations and community representatives when developing a bullying policy.

The policy must include a definition of bullying, procedures for reporting and documenting bullying or retaliation, and disciplinary measures. There must also be strategies to protect victims.

Schools need to make sure the policy is explained to students. Districts also would need to provide information about bullying prevention to staff and school volunteers.

The law requires each school district to provide bullying prevention programs to all K-12 students. The law also addresses immunity for liability for school districts.

North Dakota School Boards Association Executive Director Jon Martinson thinks school districts will meet the deadline to turn in policies.

“I think that school districts want to do the right thing,” he said. “They will do the right thing.”

Oil Patch testimony to legislators

BISMARCK–As I reported in today’s papers, legislators spent Thursday listening to hours of testimony from western North Dakota officials regarding the challenges and the need for more money due to oil impacts.

What made it into the paper was only a fraction of the testimony presented due to space reasons.

For those interested, I thought I would share copies of testimony and handouts that I received electronically for you to read more about what legislators were told.

Here they are, in no particular order:

 Dunn County


 Dickinson Public Schools

Killdeer Public Schools

 McKenzie County Public Schools

Mountrail County

Watford City

Williams County (lots of photos in this one)

Williston Public Schools


Legislators hear needs, frustrations from Oil Patch

BISMARCK – There is an “incredible amount” of anger and frustration in Williams County over how the oil boom has affected the way of life for local residents, a county commissioner said Thursday.

Officials from the oil and gas counties appeared one after another to talk to the North Dakota Legislature’s interim energy committee about the challenges they face and how much money they need to address oil impacts.

Housing, crime, lack of employees, strained budgets, stressed emergency services, traffic, day care shortages and the need for more schools were among the topics brought up.

Williams County Commissioner Dan Kalil received applause from the audience after his testimony about the toll the boom has taken on Williston. The area is short on patience, jail space, groceries and fuel; and long on sewage, garbage, anger and frustration, he said.

“Our quality of life is gone. It is absolutely gone,” he said. “My community is gone, and I’m heartbroken. I never wanted to live anyplace but Williston, North Dakota, and now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Kalil said his goal as a local official was to leave his county better than he found it, but now he doesn’t know if that’s possible. All of the challenges are a symptom of what the problem is: too much too fast, Kalil said.

“This level of activity has only led to unwarranted greed and unbelievable pressure on everyone,” he said. “We cannot sustain this. Somebody has to be brave enough to stand up and say, ‘Too much, too fast.’ ”

The state has “a moral obligation” as a stakeholder to do everything it can to help, he said.

“We cannot destroy North Dakota to fill the coffers of Bismarck. We cannot do this,” Kalil said, referring to the oil and gas tax revenue the state receives. “We went from oil exploration to oil exploitation.”

The sentiment in Williams County is that the third- and fourth-generation culture is being traded for a transient work force and “the mug shots of two undesirable people from Colorado,” he said. He was referring to the men heading to the Oil Patch who are now suspected of kidnapping a Montana teacher who is presumed dead.

Legislators also heard about the strain on volunteer ambulance departments overwhelmed with calls.

Volunteers are stressed and hard to find due to the increased time commitments, lack of funding, and need for more training and equipment, said Cody Friesz, administrator of the North Dakota EMS Association.

The calls ambulance personnel respond to are also more gruesome than they used to be, which stresses volunteers, said Donna Scott, a Dunn County commissioner.

School officials from throughout western North Dakota discussed their climbing enrollments, the need for more school buildings and the need for more impact funding from the state.

The distributions to schools in the oil counties are not answering the rapid-growth issues, said Gary Wilz, superintendent of Killdeer Public Schools.

Housing is in such demand, said Shawn Kessel, Dickinson’s city administrator, that his uncle, who owns a four-bedroom home in Dickinson, sleeps in one bedroom and rents out the other three at $800 a month each.

City sanitation truck drivers have been recruited while on their garbage routes because oil companies prize employees who are licensed to drive commercial trucks, Kessel said.

Although the census counted Dickinson’s population at about 18,000, Kessel believes the city is serving about 22,000 people. North Dakota State University has estimated the city’s population will grow to 35,000 people within four years, Kessel said.

“We’re going to have to basically pick up the city of Mandan and drop it into the city of Dickinson, and do it in four to five years,” he said. “That means adding all the roads, all the fire, all the police, and everything else.”

Brad Bekkedahl, a Williston city commissioner, said although his city’s population is growing rapidly, almost 1,000 longtime residents have left in the last two years, fed up with the city’s newly acquired crowding and traffic problems.

“Those are the people that built our churches, went to our PTAs. They built our community. It’s tough to lose those people,” Bekkedahl said. “We’re getting more back in, but we’re losing our core.”

Energy Committee Chairman Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said Thursday’s testimony indicated that legislators need to look at revising the gross production tax formula and send more money to political subdivisions. Legislators also need to look at more money for roads, he said.

There’s no question help is needed to address the impacts, Wardner said. While there are those who want to spend the state’s oil revenue on assorted causes, the state needs to take care of the oil counties, he said.

“We may have a lot of money, but we have a lot of needs,” he said. “They’re the ones that are taking the hit for the whole state.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The oil boom’s impact on schools

BISMARCK–As a Class B girl, I knew I wanted to stop at a small North Dakota school during my oil tour earlier this month to see the boom’s impact on K-12 education.

I settled on Stanley, a town that I’d heard much about but had never made it to–besides driving by—in my 30 years.

I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff there, and the mix of excitement yet caution in the community was interesting. They know they need to expand the K-12 buildings due to climbing student enrollment, but they also realize the economy could change and put a quick end to the influx of students.

You can read my full story here.

The impact of the boom on schools will come up again later this week during a legislative meeting. The Energy Development and Transmission Committee meets Thursday in Bismarck.

Here is the list of western North Dakota schools scheduled to appear before legislators to talk about the impact of oil production on K-12 education:

Steve Holen – Superintendent, McKenzie County Public School District

Gary Wilz – Superintendent, Killdeer Public School District

Viola LaFontaine – Superintendent, Williston Public School District

Douglas Sullivan – Superintendent, Dickinson Public School District

Kent Hjelmstad – Superintendent, Stanley Public School District

Oil Patch job market impacts Williston college staffing

BISMARCK – The competitive job market in the Oil Patch has contributed to high staff turnover at Williston State College, with more than one-third of its faculty and staff hired in the past two years.

To help address the challenges of having less experienced employees, the college has partnered with Bismarck State College to create a mentoring program.

Several Williston State College administrative employees met this week with their counterparts in Bismarck to ask questions and learn best practices.

“The goal has basically been for us to collaborate,” said Marnie Piehl, a spokeswoman for Bismarck State College. “One of the ways that we can help is to share information and best practices with this team that is smart and good, but not as seasoned as we are.”

The partnership between the colleges began last month when Bismarck State College administrators visited Williston. The visit helped Bismarck leaders learn more about the growing needs of the oil and gas industry and about the college’s challenges

Williston State College has 108 full-time employees and four part-time employees, which includes faculty and staff, said Michelle Remus, the college’s human resources manager.

Forty of these employees were hired after Jan. 13, 2010.

For those who haven’t been to Williston, it’s hard to understand everything that’s going on there, said Kayla Retzer, marketing director for Williston State College.

With so many job openings and low unemployment, employees can walk out the door of their job and find another, she said.

“It’s not like it’s a war over employees. I definitely would not say that,” Retzer said. “But everyone is looking for someone that can help their company or better their company. … You want to hang on to the people that you have and are really good. That gets to be kind of hard in how competitive the market is there.”

Competing with private-sector salaries and the high cost of goods and housing are also challenges, said Retzer, who has worked at the college for 2½ years and lives on campus so she can afford housing.

The partnership between Williston and Bismarck isn’t the first time the state’s two-year schools have worked together, Retzer said. In the past, Williston has connected with Lake Region State College in Devils Lake and North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton to share perspectives, she said.

She appreciates Bismarck State College’s willingness to work with Williston to make the campus better.

“Together, we can collectively do things more efficiently,” she said. “We can learn from each other’s experiences. I think it really helps to further the education and the product that we’re putting out for all students in the North Dakota University System.”

Sanstead to decide next month if he will seek another term

BISMARCK—State Superintendent Wayne Sanstead said he will decide next month if he will seek another term to the office.

Sanstead, 76, now in his seventh four-year term, said his Christmas mail has been filled with inquiries about whether he will run again.

“I suppose I get the same inquiry four or five times a day from somebody somewhere,” he said with a laugh.

However, he said it would be near President’s Day before he announces his intentions.

“Some of that is, frankly, campaigns are long enough,” he said.

Sanstead also said he schedules a full physical before deciding to run for office to make sure he’s up to doing the job, and he still needs to make an appointment. He said he also needs to take into consideration his wife’s health.

“That’s weighing on me more than anything else,” he said. “If it were simply interest and willingness to stay, I’d probably lean that way (seeking another term) right away.”

Sanstead has served in public office for 46 years. Besides his work as state superintendent, he also served eight years in the state House of Representatives, two years in the Senate and eight years as lieutenant governor under Art Link.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Greetings Teri!!!!

Are public colleges and universities required to provide any transitional assistance to students enrolled in a program and the program is closing prior to their degree completion? I am thinking primarily of undergraduate students that may have two or three years invested towards a degree and will not be able to complete the degree on or at their home campus due to the program closing.

Transferring often results in some credits being lost and additional burdens due to higher expenses of housing, tuition, etc. at the transfer institution. Sometimes the exact major is not available at the home or transfer institution and a change of major may be necessary. This requires more time as an undergraduate. And time is money.

Is this situation different if the student were in a graduate program?

Matthew Mootz


Thanks for writing! I contacted the North Dakota University System. Lisa Johnson, director of articulation and transfer, provided this response:

“The decision to terminate an academic program of study requires thoughtful planning and careful consultation – particularly with students impacted by that decision.

“Typically, the institution will continue teaching the courses necessary for students currently enrolled in the program, then no longer admit students to the program and, finally, terminate the program.

“In some cases, the institution may contract with another educational institution to provide coursework that enables students to complete their program of study.”

University System spokeswoman Debra Anderson said anyone with questions can call the office directly “so that we can work with them to resolve their specific concerns. I know they will find our office to be very responsive.”

The number for the University System office is (701) 328-2960.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505. Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

With the law on separation of church and state, why can state-owned schools have churches on the property? University of North Dakota has the Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Center, which is a church.

Shirley Haynes

Grand Forks

Thanks for writing! I forwarded your inquiry to the North Dakota University System. Spokeswoman Debra Anderson responded:

“The Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Center is located on land owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Eastern North Dakota Synod. Hence, this facility is not located on property owned by the state of North Dakota.”

Dear Teri,

I have a question regarding the locked out employees at American Crystal. At what point do they cease to be employees since they did not sign the contract? Does Crystal have to take them back if the union does agree to accept the contract?

Kevin Gross

West Fargo

Thanks for writing! I contacted Labor Commissioner Tony Weiler. Here’s what he said:

“My office has not had any involvement in this labor dispute. The first specific question asked, ‘At what point do they cease to be employees since they did not sign the contract?’ This question is difficult to answer, as I have never read the contract in question.

“In most instances, the collectively bargained for agreement between an employer and union employees will outline the relationship in great detail and perhaps answer this question. The North Dakota Labor-Management Relations Act (N.D.C.C. 34-12), however, defines an employee under subsection 34-12-01(2).

(Note: The definition is a bit lengthy. You can find the full definition here. However, here is part of it: “Employee” … includes any individual whose work has ceased as a consequence of, or in connection with, any current labor dispute or because of any unfair labor practice, and who has not obtained any other regular and substantially equivalent employment.)

“The second question relates to whether ‘Crystal’ has to take back employees if the union agrees to the proposed contract. Again, the answer to this question will most likely be dictated by the bargained for agreement between American Crystal and its employees.”

(You can read more about this issue in a story in the Grand Forks Herald.)

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505. Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Law broken when media, public weren’t notified of food fight meeting

BISMARCK–A North Dakota school board broke the law when it didn’t notify the media or the public about a meeting to discuss a school food fight.

The Surrey School Board violated the open meetings laws when it failed to post a meeting notice and notify the newspaper of a special meeting to discuss punishment for students involved in a food fight that had occurred several hours earlier, the attorney general said in an opinion issued today. Students started a food fight during the lunch hour on May 17, the last regular day of school.  

The president of the school board explains that due to the severity of the issue, posting public notice was overlooked. Minutes of the meeting were taken and reflect that even though no notice was posted, sixteen people from the school’s administration and staff were present along with eight visitors,” the opinion said. 

However, “in this situation, the Board had several hours between the food fight and the start of the special meeting to post a meeting notice and notify the newspaper. Regardless of the urgency, the presiding officer of the governing body is still responsible for assuring that public notice is given at the same time notice is provided to the governing body’s members,” the attorney general said.

Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, asked for the attorney general opinion.

You can read the full opinion here.

You can also read a letter the Surrey School Board president sent to the attorney general’s office. It describes the food fight–started by a piece of broccoli and lasting “in the vicinity of a minute”– as well as the board’s actions.