Written by John Plestina
Wolf Point School District trustees were expected to ratify union contracts Tuesday, June 9, after The Herald-News went to press.
The Wolf Point Education Association, which represents teachers, and the Wolf Point Educational Support Staff Association, which represents non-certified school staff, including paraprofessional aids, office staff, custodians and cafeteria workers, both met during the past week and ratified proposed contracts.
School district and union negotiators reached a verbal accord Thursday, May 28, nearly four months after negotiations began for new labor agreements.
The lingering impasse was based on the amount the school district would contribute for employee health insurance and wage issues.
The settlement was based on forming a health insurance pool for eligible district employees that would reduce the projected cost of providing insurance to all teachers and full-time classified [non-teaching] employees that work at least 30 hours each week. Under the new agreement, the district will pay individual and family health insurance but there will be no health savings accounts and single employees will have to pay $2,600 deductible out of their pockets and those with family coverage would have to meet $5,200 deductible.
The school district and representatives of both unions initially agreed to the district’s original offer to pay $937.50 per month for health insurance coverage for every participating employee, with the funds going into an insurance pool. But, with both unions participating in a single pool, higher employer contributions became necessary. The district agreed to pay $1,044 per month for every participating employee. The result is that monies paid for insurance for single individuals would help pay for family coverage for other employees. The original proposal with no insurance pool would have left employees with families having to pay part of the premiums.
Before an agreement was reached, the WPESSA was asking for the district to pay $1,356 per month for every employee to purchase whatever coverage they wish.
Neither side waivered on the $418.50 difference until May 28.
The school district is asking both unions to research alternative insurance carriers for the 2016-2017 school year.
The school district and unions have not been in agreement on a possible change of health insurance carriers. The district is renewing coverage for one year with the current provider, the Montana Unified School Trust. That coverage has been called expensive.
Other points of the proposed contracts agreed upon include the WPESSA dropping a demand for longevity raises that could have left the district having to give some longtime employees raises of as much as $8,000 per year. The three classified employees who have worked for the district over 21 years will each receive one additional day of personal leave.
The 15 12-month classified employees will each receive a 25-cent per hour raise.
The district and the WPESSA had not previously agreed about pay for paraprofessional aides that substitute when teachers are absent and substitute teachers are not available.
Under the new agreement, paraprofessionals will receive an additional $30 for each day they are used as a substitute. Substitute teachers who are not on the WPSD staff receive $100 per day.
Most of the unsuccessful negotiations had been with the former school board. The entire six-member board was up for election May 5 due to federal court mandated redistricting creating five single-member districts and one at-large position. Five of the six former board members did not seek election in single-member districts. Former board vice chair Jaronn Boysun was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection.
The new board members are Brandon Babb, Lanette Clark, LaRae Hanks, Linda Hansen, Mark Kurokawa and Corey Reum.
Representatives of the former school board began meeting with union representatives in February with lingering stalemates over how much the school district would contribute for employee health insurance and wages. Two unsuccessful rounds of mediation with a Montana Department of Labor and Industry mediator failed to produce an agreement with the WPESSA. The WPEA did not participate in the mediation process.
Written by John Plestina
The former Wolf Point High School teacher, athletic director and basketball coach who turned down an offer in April to become Wolf Point’s next superintendent received approval from the Poplar School board Monday, June 8, to become the next district superintendent in Poplar.
Jim Baldwin, 59, originally from Culbertson and currently of St. John, Wash., has 39 years experience in education. He taught at WPHS for nearly a decade from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s. Baldwin is also a former superintendent in Choteau.
Baldwin will replace embattled superintendent Dr. Kim Harding, who the board placed on administrative leave May 14. She began working as superintendent at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
Elementary principal Keith Erickson and high school principal Dwain Haggard have served as co-superintendents since Harding’s departure.
A petition that circulated in Poplar asked for Harding’s removal.
That came after the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board voted 9-1 April 27 to banish Harding from the reservation. Numerous allegations claimed that Harding did not get along with teachers and she was accused of referring to several Poplar teachers as “renegades” in an email dated March 6. A Poplar teacher publicized the email from Harding on March 11.
Harding was taken to task because historical uses of the word “renegade” are considered offensive by Native Americans.
Harding told The Herald-News in early May that the email was portrayed in the press [not in The Herald-News] as racist in nature and described situations that had been happening at staff meetings.
“I absolutely wish I had never used the word renegade. I come from Ronan [on the Flathead Reservation]. We raised our family there and have our ranch there,” Harding said.
Written by John Plestina
Culbertson area residents that are concerned about a proposed landfill that would accept oilfield waste, including naturally-occurring radioactive materials, have an opportunity to express their opinions to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality during a public meeting, at town hall Thursday, June 11, from 6-8 p.m.
“Within a two-mile radius there are 18 homes,” Culbertson Mayor Gordon Oelkers said.
They finally got a completed permit with DEQ, so now DEQ is doing their public hearing on it,” he said.
MDEQ began the permitting process for the proposed radioactive Bakken Oilfield waste dump in February 2014
A permit would allow Clay Butte Environmental, a Minnesota company, to establish the landfill on 149 acres of a 160-acre site on the west side of Montana Hwy. 16, about five miles north of Culbertson.
The landfill also would accept contaminated soil from oil spills and would have a capacity of nearly 10 million cubic yards.
According to an MDEQ study, waste would be tested for radiation and levels exceeding a maximum threshold would be rejected.
North Dakota produces the majority of oilfield waste in the region, but lacks a radioactive waste facility.
Montana allows higher levels of radioactive waste than North Dakota.
Written by John Plestina
Wolf Point High School Class Of 2019. (Photo Courtesy Shelley Ferdina)
The Most Outstanding Eighth Grade Boys and Girls and the runners up were awarded during the junior high graduation. Pictured are: (from left to right) Lauren Crawford, runner-up; Hailey Brunelle: most outstanding eighth grade girl; Brendan Wagner and Tyson Weeks, co-most outstanding eighth grade boys. (Photo by John Plestina)
Forty-eight eighth-graders received diplomas in the Wolf Point High School gymnasium Tuesday, June 2, making them the WPHS class of 2019.
Honor student speaker Paisley Ferdina told her classmates graduation does matter.
“We’ve heard this several times throughout the school year because it does matter,” she said.
Brendan Wagner, the second honor student speaker said he hopes the class will get over their obstacles and achieve great things.
Honor student speaker Lauren Crawford told her classmates they are taking the next step to the transition to high school.
“What you do will impact your future greatly,” she said.
Matthew DeWitt, an honor student speaker, reminded the eighth grade class that most of them had been together since kindergarten.
“The past two years have been a time for change for us,” he said.
“It’s better to fail at something you love than to succeed at something you hate,” DeWitt said.
The final honor student speaker was Hailey Brunelle.
“I challenge each and every person in this gym to give someone else a compliment,” she said.
The graduates are Elmarie A. Adams, Alyssa D. Archdale, Morgan K. Bauer, Mary S. Bighorn, Jessica M. Blankenship, Caleb J. Blount, Chevy W. Boos, Hailey E. Brunelle, Jakeb P. Bushman, LaKeesha M. Comes Last, LaTesha M. Comes Last, Lauren G. Crawford, Laresa R. Dale, Matthew J. DeWitt, Cheryl C. Eagle, Thai G. Eggebrecht, Paisley J. Ferdina, Justin J. Fields, Jayde P. Four Star, Trey M. Four Star, Rayce M. Hamilton, Jayden A. Headdress, Annette M. Henderson, Danielle J. Henderson, Logan J. Heser, Haley R. Jackson, James W. Jackson Jr., Sky A. Johnston, Abby L. Juve, Trisetan A. Kemp, Kassandra A. Kirkaldie, Jaclynn L. Lewis, Shikyra M. Medicinestone Smith, Zachariah L. Morales, Antonio D. Nation Jr., Tyson J. Nelson, Theophile I. Nelson-Bruguier, Kayden C. Roubideaux, Kobe J. Silk, John P. Smoker Jr., Hailey N. Steele, Avah C. Talks Different, Tra A. Taylor, Dani J. Vine, Brendan M. Wagner, Tyson T. Weeks, Semarah G. Wells and Joseph K. Williamson.
Written by Herald-News
Masonic Loyalty Lodge No. 121 of Wolf Point and the Montana Masonic Foundation donated nine Kindle e-readers to student in each Northside Elementary School homeroom. The Kindles were awarded by drawing Thursday, June 4, the last day of school. The donation of the Kindles recognizes student dedication to reading. Pictured are (front row, from left to right) Aurora Adams, Isabella Jones, Christian Bissonette, Savanah Baker, Semone Martell, (back row) Masonic Lodge member Tom Smail, Northside principal Hannah Nieskens, Wayne Eagle Boy, Rayven Damon, Jesse Fourstar, Hannah Vandall, Masonic Lodge member J.T. Szymanski and Masonic Lodge secretary-treasurer Jeff Harada. (Photo by John Plestina)