Dickinson Public Schools’ Ballot Measure Wording Unnecessary and Could Sway Votes

As many Dickinson area early and absentee voters have already learned, we have a local measure on our June primary ballot. I first learned of the measure as I was filling out my ballot this evening. I hadn’t heard anything about it this election cycle, and I doubt many of you had either.

With a hotly contested City Commission and a mayoral race, the measure is a relatively minor news item that has been largely ignored. That’s because this measure isn’t something out of left field. It’s the regular ballot measure asking if Dickinson Public School minutes should be published in the local newspaper of record. Though it’s unnamed in the measure, that newspaper is The Dickinson Press, which I worked at for more than a decade and was editor of for three-and-a-half years.

North Dakota school boards are required to regularly ask the public if it wants to continue having board minutes published in the school district’s newspaper of record. It’s generally a formality and rarely, if ever, gets voted down. Thankfully North Dakota voters are a relatively informed bunch.

But it isn’t often that the question is asked in the way Dickinson Public Schools worded its measure on this year’s primary ballot. What stands out is the suspect verbiage of the measure, which is pointedly worded in a manner that could easily sway voters and frankly should never have been allowed on the ballot. The measure reads: 

“Dickinson Public Schools has been publishing the Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper at a significant cost to the taxpayers. Additionally, Dickinson Public Schools has been posting the meeting minutes on the District’s website and will continue to post them. As a taxpayer, do you wish Dickinson Public Schools to continue to publish the School Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper of the school district?”

I can’t express how significant and inappropriate the inclusion of the lines “at a significant cost to the taxpayers” and “As a taxpayer” are on a ballot measure. This is basically like asking “Do you approve a $110 million bond measure to build a new high school because the current school is overcrowded and needs millions of dollars in repairs?”

Wording measures like this is a slippery slope — especially when it affects public information. 

So many people in Dickinson have bemoaned The Dickinson Press’ move from a five-day-a-week newspaper to a weekly newspaper — a financial decision not made locally but entirely by executive management of The Press’ ownership group Forum Communications Co. 

Yet, here we are, with Dickinson Public Schools — the largest public entity in the community — using “taxpayer funds” as a way to try and get out of publishing its minutes in the local newspaper. Without some in-depth research, I can’t tell you how much money the school pays The Dickinson Press to publish these minutes. But my knowledge of how much legal notices cost leads me to believe it’s a drop in the bucket of the school district’s budget. 

The board, Superintendent Shon Hocker and anyone involved in putting together that measure should be ashamed of how it is worded and that they’re even proposing such a move.

More than anything, public meeting minutes are recorded in a newspaper as a way to serve as a historic document. If I wanted to go back to 1975 and see what happened at a Dickinson Public School board meeting, I can. I would just go to The Dickinson Press or the State Library in Bismarck and ask for the dates I want to research. There, I’ll find the school board minutes. Published in full. 

Do we have any assurance that, if only published on the school’s website, those minutes will remain there forever? Of course not. Like any other record or document, they’ll eventually get pushed to the side to make room for something else. They’re currently published from 2008 to today, but any further back than that and you’ll need to go looking for an old newspaper.

There are still many people who expect to see public meeting minutes published in their local newspaper, whether they’re community watchdogs, or the elderly and old-fashioned who simply don’t use the Internet. If nothing else, it’s a worthy gesture for any public entity to assure citizens they’re not trying to hide anything. 

The funny thing is, The Press has actually been publishing the Dickinson Public School board meeting minutes on its website along with the physical newspaper. So the school is already getting a two-for-one deal. We didn’t do this when I was there. We should have. This is a good change. 

I have hope that the vast majority will vote “Yes” and force Dickinson Public Schools to continue publishing its school board meeting minutes in The Dickinson Press. North Dakotans shouldn’t allow a single public entity to take any steps to halt the publishing of public information in community newspapers of record.

Baker Boy counts on mom of two MIT-bound ‘math geniuses’​ to lead donut team

Note: This is part of a series of stories “Faces of Baker Boy” I write on some of our wonderful Baker Boy employees who have great stories to tell.

Ask Baker Boy Donut Team Leader Julie Bleyenberg to count the number of donuts coming off Baker Boy’s fry system and she would likely give you a hearty laugh. To get the answer, she could just call her kids. They’d have it figured out in no time.

Julie is a hard-working mom to three children. Two of whom, as she puts it, are “math geniuses.”

Her youngest source of maternal pride, 17-year-old William, will graduate from Dickinson High School at the top of his class Sunday with an unprecedented absence of pomp and circumstance as the Coronavirus Pandemic limits graduation celebrations and ceremonies nationwide.

Julie and her family will watch William graduate while sitting inside of their vehicle during open-air ceremonies on the Biesiot Activities Center football field. In the fall, William plans to join his sister, Carrie, at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“The only thing that matters is we are together and we are healthy,” Julie said. “Nothing else matters. Also, dude, you got into MIT!”

Continue reading “Baker Boy counts on mom of two MIT-bound ‘math geniuses’​ to lead donut team”

Symposium Attendees Ted-Set on Plans for Roosevelt Library in Dickinson

Louise W. Knight got her hands dirty Saturday morning.

The author and historian from Evanston, Ill., who is in Dickinson as a speaker at the Theodore Roosevelt Symposium, tore into the bark of cottonwood trees at the behest of Roosevelt scholar and symposium leader Clay Jenkinson.

As Jenkinson spoke about the process for how the trees will soon be used to build a replica of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch cabin, Knight wrapped her hands around the bark and started to pull. In all, she tore off about 10 feet of bark from a cottonwood sitting at the site of the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library.

“The most fun work is where you see the results right away, and this is that kind of work,” Knight said with a smile.

Continue reading “Symposium Attendees Ted-Set on Plans for Roosevelt Library in Dickinson”

DSU Enrollment up 5 Percent: Mitzel Says Heritage Foundation’s Work Essential to Growth

Dickinson State University’s fall semester enrollment increased 5 percent from last year.

It’s a small but significant increase as the College on the Hill rebuilds its reputation under a new administration following years of enrollment and foundation scandals.

DSU President Thomas Mitzel said Tuesday that fundraising efforts by the DSU Heritage Foundation – formed last year after the old DSU Alumni and Foundation was forced into receivership by the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office – was essential in helping recruit new students to the university.

“You never want to have to start a new foundation, but by doing so I think we were able to target some very nice scholarship packages for students,” Mitzel said.

Continue reading “DSU Enrollment up 5 Percent: Mitzel Says Heritage Foundation’s Work Essential to Growth”

Blue Hawk Square Variance Approved

Dickinson State University can start making plans to place students in the Blue Hawk Square off-campus housing complex after the city’s Board of Adjustment approved an off-site parking variance for it Monday morning.

The board granted the variance request made by Dacotah Bank, which took ownership of the building in June by claiming the deed from the DSU Foundation in lieu of foreclosure.

The variance will allow residents of the four-story, 108-occupant apartment complex on the corner of West Villard Street and 10th Avenue West to park their vehicles on DSU’s campus instead of in a parking lot across Villard that had been leased by the foundation since it opened. Obtaining the parking variance was a crucial step in Dacotah Bank obtaining a certificate of occupancy for Blue Hawk Square.

Board member Trevor Ernst requested the variance be granted for two years on a temporary basis after an hour of debate and comments from concerned neighborhood residents and property owners. The motion passed 3-2.

Continue reading “Blue Hawk Square Variance Approved”

BUILDING PROBLEMS: DSU Housing Complex Sits Empty as Neighbors Voice Concerns About Parking, Future Use

A four-story building meant to provide off-campus housing to Dickinson State University students is sitting empty this semester, and neighborhood residents are trying to keep it that way.

Blue Hawk Square, located two blocks south of the university on West Villard Street, became another casualty of the DSU Foundation’s dissolution in June when Dacotah Bank acquired the property from a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

Now, the bank is working with DSU and the city to get students back in the 44-unit apartment building as early as the spring semester.

Continue reading “BUILDING PROBLEMS: DSU Housing Complex Sits Empty as Neighbors Voice Concerns About Parking, Future Use”

Oilfield Worker Earns Scholarship to Continue Education

BISMARCK — Chad Schoch thought he’d work in the North Dakota oilfields for two years, at most.

He wanted to roughneck, make and save money, pay off his bills, and then be out by the time he was 30. Six years later, the 34-year-old New England man is one of the state’s two Bakken U scholarship recipients and is slowly building a career as a petroleum industry professional.

“I’m in school mode right now,” Schoch said.

Schoch, a process plant technology student at Bismarck State College, was awarded one of this year’s two $5,000 Bakken U scholarships Tuesday by the North Dakota University System and the NDUS Foundation.

“I typed up a letter, an essay, and sent it in,” Schoch said. “I’d honestly forgot all about it until I got the phone call.”

Schoch is a health and environmental safety coordinator for Whiting Petroleum Corp. in Dickinson and said his boss convinced him to go back to school to finish up his bachelor’s degree. He graduated with a broadcast communications degree from Minot State University and then turned his sights on the oil industry.

Last December, he earned a petroleum production technology associate’s degree from BSC online is now in the process of earning his process plant technology associate’s degree.

“The whole key behind everything was to stay working,” Schoch said. “I’m kind of diversifying my portfolio, trying to make myself as well-rounded as possible.”

Schoch said he started in the oil business when he went to work as a roughneck for drilling company Helmerich & Payne. He spent 2½ years with H&P before moving to Baker Hughes, where he worked for a little more than a year. The oil bust hit western North Dakota when Schoch was working for Whiting near New Town.

Schoch said when oil prices dropped and jobs started being cut, he was certain he’d eventually end up back in the radio broadcasting world where he’d worked before joining the oil industry.

He said he knew that if he wanted to continue working in oil, he’d have to become a valuable asset to it.

“Drilling is going to go away, but production is always going to be there,” he said. “What could I do to keep working? I found that petroleum production tech program, just to make sure I always had a backup plan.”

Schoch praised his employer for allowing him to work while also furthering his education, and said he wants to stay with Whiting long term.

“Maybe move up the chain of command,” he said. “It’d be nice to find myself in a supervisor role either here in North Dakota or Colorado.”

Bakken U Coordinator Jerry Rostad said he thought Schoch had a great story of trying to further his success already achieved in the oilfields through enhancing his education.

“He’s one of those guys who it sure looks like he’s going to stay on his feet,” Rostad said.

Schoch was one of two people to receive scholarships out of around 40 applicants, Rostad added. Briley Crissler, a business management student at Minot State University from Belcourt, was also awarded a $5,000 Bakken U scholarship. Crissler began his education at Dickinson State University.

After six years in the oil industry, Schoch said he can’t imagine doing anything else. “It gets in your blood,” he said. “Now it’s hard to consider doing anything else right now.”