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”

Dickinson State enters the esports game

Tucked away in the back corner of the Dickinson State University Student Center basement, adjacent the cafeteria, is a room like many others on campus.

Seven desks, each with large computers and monitors, complete with webcams, line the room’s interior walls. Next to each desk sits large, comfortable-looking upholstered leather chairs. To the unknowing eye, the room appears to be nothing more than an upscale computer lab.

However, in the fall, the small room painted in DSU blue, white and gray colors will be the core of what the university hopes becomes its next extracurricular activity, and potentially even its next varsity sport.

The lab is home to DSU’s fledgeling esports program.

Continue reading “Dickinson State enters the esports game”

After playing days end, Dufault discovers new track as Lakers coaching associate

NOTE: This story is scheduled to appear in the March issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.

After Austin Dufault scored an interview to be a coaching associate for the Los Angeles Lakers, it took him about 10 minutes to realize the job opportunity was with one of the most storied franchises in professional sports, not its minor-league affiliate.

The confusion, laughable now, was created by the job history of the people who connected Dufault and Lakers head video coordinator Will Scott. Not to mention the National Basketball Association team shares a nickname with the G-League’s South Bay Lakers.

“For about the first 10 or 15 minutes I was on the phone, I just assumed he (Scott) was with the South Bay Lakers,” Dufault said. “We were talking for a while and he kept saying, ‘Luke likes things this way.’ … I’m like, ‘Wait, are you talking about the Los Angeles Lakers?’”

Dufault, a Killdeer High School graduate, didn’t hesitate when Scott eventually asked him to join Lakers head coach Luke Walton’s staff as a coaching associate. He handles video preparation and some scouting duties alongside two other coaching associates.

“It’s a paid internship,” Dufault said, describing his position. “We work all of our practices and all of our home games. We’re on the court helping guys out with pre-game workouts. They throw me in drills a lot. I’m used as a defender a lot when guys are working out.”

Continue reading “After playing days end, Dufault discovers new track as Lakers coaching associate”

Final Column for the Press: Thank You Dickinson for 10 Amazing Years

There’s no such thing as a perfect goodbye. Goodbyes are difficult. Sometimes they’re painful. While some goodbyes bring relief, there always seems to be a bit of awkwardness to them.

One thing’s for certain — goodbye is never easy to say.

So it is with bittersweet excitement, I announce today that I’m stepping down as managing editor and leaving The Dickinson Press after more than 10 years with the newspaper.

Continue reading “Final Column for the Press: Thank You Dickinson for 10 Amazing Years”