Written by John Plestina
Round two of collective bargaining mediation ended in a stalemate over health insurance Thursday, April 30, between the Wolf Point School District and the Wolf Point Educational Support Staff Association, which represents non-certified school staff.
The second mediation meeting was likely the last attempt to settle stalled union negotiations before a new school board is seated Monday, May 11.
It is likely that an arbitrator, who unlike a mediator who brings recommendations and proposals to each side, would have authority to make decisions.
Superintendent Joe Paine said arbitration could cost up to $3,500 per day, which the school district would split with the union.
The WPESSA represents classified school district employees that include non-certified aides, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching staff.
The WPESSA requested intervention by a state mediator because of continuing stalemates over employee health insurance and wages.
The Wolf Point Education Association, which represents teachers, also has not settled with the school district on insurance and other issues. WPEA has not participated in mediation.
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry assigned Max Hallfrisch of Great Falls, a former Teamsters Union business representative and executive board member for about a 35-year period, to mediate the impasse in Wolf Point. Hallfrisch is a member of the Department of Labor and Industry’s Board of Personnel Appeals.
The first round of mediation ended in a deadlock one week earlier.
The cost to the district of the WPESSA proposal would be $627,750 per year, according to information Paine provided.
The school district is offering to pay $937.50 per month, per employee, for health insurance coverage. That would leave employees with families having to pick up part of the cost.
The WPESSA is asking for the district to pay $1,356 per month for every employee to purchase whatever coverage they wish.
Neither side has wavered on the $418.50 difference during three months of ongoing negotiations, the last two meetings with the mediator.
The district has agreed to a $220,000 increase to the budget that includes insurance and a district-proposed 1 percent pay increase for certified staff and 25 cents per hour for non-certified employees that have been employed 12 months or longer.
Paine gave Hallfrisch the results of a survey he conducted of health insurance costs of 10 eastern Montana school districts and seven private and governmental employers in Wolf Point. The average employer health insurance contribution by school districts is $754.50 with only one district paying more than $937.40 and contributions by the seven local employers averaging $593.
“So we feel the $937.50 is well above the average. So maybe they’ll see that we’re offering a good deal,” Paine said.
Hallfrisch presented Paine’s survey to representatives of the WPESSA.
“We’d love to offer $1,356,” school trustee Brent Nygard said and added that the district cannot afford that much and that it could result in teaching jobs being cut.
“If they’re not willing to budge on insurance money, I’m not willing to budge,” he said.
“I don’t think any of us want to see our name on $1,356 and see this district go crashing down,” Paine said.
He cited the need to replace the gym floor, bleachers and ceiling in the high school gym, high school parking lot repaving and other facilities maintenance needs, and that voters have not approved levies to fund improvements.
“If they are willing to put their salaries and their health insurance in front of the facilities and the children; the money is not there,” Paine said.
Hallfrisch brought a counter proposal to district negotiators from the WPESSA that offered some compromise on wage issues but did not settle the stalemate over insurance.
Nygard said insurance concerns need to be settled before any other issues.
Paine said he agreed.
Paine, however, did not give up all hope for a settlement without arbitration.
“If everyone gives a little bit, I think we can get there,” he said.
Written by John Plestina
The former Wolf Point High School teacher and athletic director who was slated to return to become district superintendent turned down an offered contract Wednesday, April 29, two days after he interviewed, leaving the school district with a probable third round of advertising, applicant screenings and interviews.
Jim Baldwin, originally from Culbertson and currently of St. John, Wash., was the top finalist among the three people interviewed.
Monte Silk, the second choice among the applicants, withdrew from consideration.
With the entire school board being up for election this week and only one incumbent seeking another term, it is unlikely that any action would be taken until after the new school board is sworn in Monday, May 11.
The school district worked with Kerri Langoni of the Montana School Board Association to attract and screen applicants for the two unsuccessful attempts to fill the position.
It remains unknown if the new school board will work with the MSBA or advertise at the district level for applicants.
The school district wants a new superintendent to be in place July 1.
Current superintendent Joe Paine leaves June 30 for a new position in Grenora, N.D.
The first round of applications resulted in invitations to interview extended to two top applicants in March. Both withdrew from consideration. School trustees then voted 4-0 during a special meeting March 30, to re-open the position for 10 days to again attempt to find finalists to invite for interviews, with the alternative available of hiring an interim superintendent. The result was interviews April 27 with Baldwin, Silk and one other candidate.
Written by John Plestina
The Montana Supreme Court handed down a 4-3, 68-page decision, Tuesday, May 5, rejecting former Poplar resident Barry Beach’s petition be re-sentenced for his conviction of a 1979 beating death, a crime Beach denies any guilt for.
Beach’s attorneys filed the petition in October 2014 and Montana’s highest court heard oral arguments on Feb. 4.
Beach sought relief from a 100-year prison sentence he had received in 1984 for the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees, a Poplar High School classmate.
His attorneys argued that Beach, now 53, was 17 years old when the murder occurred 36 years ago and that a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision created limits on life sentences given to juveniles.
The high court, however, ruled that the 2012 federal Supreme Court decision could not be applied to cases prior to 2012.
While the Supreme Court petition failed to garner a new sentencing and Beach has tried unsuccessfully twice for clemency before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, including in 2014, his possible freedom might have been legislated in the halls of the Montana State Capital earlier this year with the passage of House Bill 43 that Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law, granting him and future governors final authority in clemency decisions.
The new law that will take effect Oct. 15, will grant the Montana governor clemency powers similar to those held by a majority of governors and allow the governor to release state prisoners, even if the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole previously denied clemency applications.
Currently, Montana’s Board of Pardons and Parole is one of only eight in the nation that have the final say on clemency petitions.
Bullock wrote to that board in April 2014, while a clemency application was pending for Beach, saying he believed Beach deserved an opportunity for rehabilitation outside of prison.
Beach has never wavered on his assertion of innocence. His conviction in 17th District Court in Glasgow was based on Beach confessing to the crime following an interrogation by investigators from a Louisiana sheriff’s office. He has maintained that the confession was coerced with aggressive tactics.
Other people have claimed responsibility for the murder and some said they witnessed people other than Beach killing Nees.
Written by John Plestina
A local man is hoping to break ground later this month for a BMX dirt track that the Fort Peck Tribes recently donated a land lease for on U.S. Hwy. 2, east of Ninth Avenue North, near West End Housing.
“The tribal executive board granted me a five-year lease,” Wolf Point resident David Gonzales said.
“I want to break ground by the third week of May,” he said.
Gonzales said it should take about four weeks from the groundbreaking for the BMX dirt park to be ready to open.
Gonzales said he wants to form a group or committee for fundraising for initial costs that include dirt, water and use of equipment. He said he is also hoping to include community members and local youth in building the park.
“I’m going to be doing a couple of fundraisers the next couple of months,” Gonzales said.
He said he can help kids get bikes at no cost.
Gonzales said Dakota Dollar Store, Gysler Do It Best Hardware, Wolf Point Sand and Gravel and Fort Peck Tribal Housing are all involved in the project.
The park will be open to the public.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Gonzales at 697-3541.
Written by John Plestina
An 18-year-old Culbertson woman was arraigned in 15th District Court Wednesday, April 29, for three felonies and one misdemeanor that authorities allege she committed when she was 17.
Shelby Lynn Friede appeared before District Judge David Cybulski in an open preceding and pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, one misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of dangerous drugs and felony tampering with physical evidence.
An Aug. 13 trial date was assigned.
Assistant Roosevelt County Attorney Jordan Knudsen said there is a possibility that the case could be transferred to youth court.
Friede has been free on bond since her arrest Feb. 17, nearly six weeks before her 18th birthday. She turned 18 March 29.
Roosevelt County Sheriff Jason Frederick, RCSO Sgt. Patrick O’Connor, adult probation and parole officer Darrin Moser and several RCSO deputies arrested Friede Feb. 17, during a probation search at the Culbertson residence of Michael Monson, 59.
Court documents list Monson as both the father and grandfather of Friede. It is not clear which is correct.
According to charging documents, the RCSO received information alleging drug trafficking at Monson’s home, specifically allegations that Friede was selling and using drugs.
The charging documents allege that Friede told officers she had thrown drugs on the roof of the house before the search after Monson warned her that the house was going to be searched. The charging documents further allege that Frederick and a deputy recovered a fanny pack from the roof, which contained about a half ounce of marijuana, two pipes and several packets of marijuana seeds. The court papers also allege that Friede admitted that the items in the fanny pack were hers, admitted to selling marijuana to people in Cul-
bertson and Williston, N.D., and admitted using several drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine.
Friede was reported to have been living in Monson’s home.
He is on probation after being sentenced in December 2014 to four years deferred imposition of sentence and a $4,000 fine.
He pleaded guilty in July 2014 to criminal endangerment on a change of plea for an incident that occurred in Culbertson Jan. 14. He was originally charged with felony assault with a weapon and was alleged to have pointed a .22 caliber handgun at a 12-year-old girl and threatened to shoot her after she threatened him with a knife. Monson was alleged to have been intoxicated at the time of the incident.