Written by John Plestina
Mediation, meditation or medication?
It might be just a play on words, but serious questions loom of whether collective bargaining negotiations between the Wolf Point School District and the two unions representing teachers and support staff will be settled before the July 1 deadline and if long-term financial effects could negatively impact the children.
Hopefully, the needs of the students will be the highest priority when decisions are made.
Negotiations between the school district and the unions have been ongoing since February and have stalled over issues that include health insurance costs to the district and union-proposed substantial longevity pay increases that could translate to about $8,000 annually for some long-time employees. There is a difference in the costs to the school district of more than $400,000 between what the district and support staff union are proposing.
A first-round of mediation with a state intermediary, Thursday, April 16, did not settle the thorniest issues. A second meeting with the mediator is planned. It’s anyone’s guess if or when a settlement will be agreed upon. A major concern could be the next school year starting with no signed contract with one or both unions.
Adding to the chaos, a lot of changes are coming to the school district all at once. Following the May 5 election, a new school board will be seated during the May 11 trustees meeting that may or may not include the one incumbent board member who is running or either of two people running for board positions with school board experience. A possible scenario could be an entire school board seated in less than two weeks with no experience. Newly-hired superintendent Jim Baldwin, a former WPHS teacher, athletic director and coach, takes the helm July 1.
The new board will be a first in court-mandated redistricted single-member districts. Five of the six positions will be districted and there will be one at-large board member. The entire six-member current board was elected at-large.
Current superintendent Joe Paine has given notice to resign in June for a position in Grenora, N.D.
What is currently happening might be remembered years from now as a pivotal time for the Wolf Point School District with a new board to take the helm with difficult decisions looming and a new superintendent coming in, leaving a possible scenario of a totally inexperienced school board and a new superintendent who has been away from the Wolf Point School District 21 years. Stirring the pot even more is the departures after the current school year of a significant number of district staff [higher than most years] that include administrators, teachers and coaches.
With the school board having already accepted some resignations and other staff and coaches having given notice, the district must hire one elementary principal, an activities/athletic director for the high school, and head football, boys’ basketball, wrestling and volleyball coaches.
The outgoing school board might fill some positions during the next monthly school board meeting, Monday, May 11. That is the meeting where the new school board will be sworn in.
Staff departures account for 14 students leaving the district that are some of the most gifted students with the highest grade point averages. A loss of enrollment numbers also translates to a loss of some state funding that is based on enrollment figures.
A new board that could be comprised of no one who ever served on a school board might inherit the stalled school district/union negotiations and tough financial decisions that might follow a settlement that could include job and program cuts if all union demands are met.
Facilities are another concern a new board will have to address with the gym, entering its 47th year of Wolves dribbling across the floor, needing a new floor, ceiling and bleachers. The high school parking lot needs to be repaved and other renovations and repairs are needed at school buildings.
Let’s remember the kids come first. Their needs, including a high-quality education for every student, is priority No. 1.
Written by Bill Vander Weele Sidney Herald
Michael Keith Spell, one of the two men involved in the murder of Sidney teacher Sherry Arnold, was sentenced to 100 years in the Montana State Prison by District Judge Richard Simonton Friday.
None of the sentence was suspended. Spell will be eligible to apply for parole after serving 25 years of the sentence.
“I’m relieved the process has reached its conclusion,” Gary Arnold, husband of Sherry Arnold, said. “The judge supported his decision with clear, concise reasoning.”
Despite a strong closing argument by Defense attorney Al Avignone that Spell could be committed to the director of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Gary Arnold said he felt Spell would be sentenced to prison partly because of how much county attorney Mike Weber and deputy county attorney Tom Halvorson kept the family informed.
“I was comfortable, that it was going to turn out the way it turned out,” Gary Arnold said.
Before making the ruling, Simonton said, “The impact that this killing has from the family, Sherry Arnold’s friends and this community has been great. I can’t even imagine what Sherry’s family has gone through and is going through with her unexpected death.”
Simonton said the issue was whether Spell was under the influence of Lester Waters, who was sentenced for 100 years with 20 years suspended for the homicide, enough that he was forced to commit the crime.
“I don’t believe he was. I don’t believe the Defense met its burden,” Simonton said.
Although the Defense argued that Spell should get a shorter sentence than Waters because Spell cooperated with authorities earlier, the judge noted Spell didn’t report to law enforcement. It was his family who contacted law enforcement. Simonton said the two men almost attacked two other women during their trip from Colorado to North Dakota. When they saw Sherry Arnold in Sidney, Spell did some more crack cocaine. When Spell came close to Sherry Arnold, she smiled and he smiled back. Spell then turned around and grabbed the victim from behind. Spell claimed that he felt Arnold was just passed out and he and Waters dragged her into the vehicle. When Waters and Spell went to Wal-Mart, Simonton said Spell didn’t ask anybody for help or try to leave.
Simonton noted that the sentences for Spell and Waters weren’t the same.
“One big difference is that it was Mr. Spell who murdered Sherry,” Simonton said. “Waters is the one who entered into the initial plea agreement and agreed to testify against Spell.”
During Avignone’s closing argument, he asked for a sentence of not greater than 100 years with 20 years suspended with the Department of Health and Human Services.
He noted putting Spell, who suffers with an intellectual disability, in the Montana State Prison would be cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“If you send him to the Montana State Prison, he’s done,” Avignone said. “He never gets a chance.”
During his closing argument, Weber noted Spell was voluntarily under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine when he committed the murder. “Granted Mr. Waters did provide the drugs, but this defendant voluntarily consumed the drugs.”
He argued that Spell wasn’t under Waters’ influence. “The State’s theory is that Mr. Waters wasn’t even present” when the homicide took place.
Dr. Craig W. Beaver, a witness for the Defense, testified that Spell, 25, was able to understand the difference between what was right or wrong at the time of the homicide, but he was not able to confirm his behavior due to the influence of Lester Waters.
Beaver testified that Spell was fearful of Waters and that fear along with being intoxicated at the time influenced Spell. When interviewing family members and educators, Beaver said they described Spell as being very much a follower who relied on adults for direction.
Beaver said that family members were fearful of Spell traveling with Waters to North Dakota because Waters could take advantage of the situation. Beaver said Spell told him that Waters talked about people he killed in the past and that he had a knife and a gun. Spell also told Beaver that at one point Waters threatened to sexual assault Spell.
According to a Gudjonsson test, Spell’s score indicated that he could be easily influenced.
Beaver recommended Spell be placed in a setting where there are trained and knowledgable people in dealing with intellectually disabled adults.
When asked by county attorney Mike Weber, Beaver agreed that Spell drank alcohol and used marijuana and crack cocaine voluntarily during his trip to Sidney with Waters.
Judge Simonton asked Beaver if he felt it was strange that Spell didn’t mention his fear of Waters to the probation officer during the pre-sentencing investigation.”Yes, I think that’s unusual,” Beaver said.
Ronald Cummings, a private investigator hired by the Defense in July 2012, said he has had about 60 contacts with Spell. Cummings said Spell mentioned that Waters threatened to kill and also sexual assault Spell.
Judge Simonton asked Cummings if Spell was threatened by Waters before or after the murder in Sidney. Cummings said he felt the threats came after the crime. When asked by Defense attorney Al Avignone, Cummings said threats were made to Spell during the trip regarding if he told anyone about the other murders that Waters talked to Spell about.
Written by Herald-News
The Roosevelt County Commissioners approved new carpeting for the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office’s Poplar office at a cost of about $2,400 during the weekly meeting Tuesday, April 28.
The sheriff’s office uses the Poplar city-owned building rent-free.
In other business, the commissioners approved the purchase of a new Dodge Ram pickup from Northern Prairie Auto Sales for the county’s disaster and emergency services department for $35,236. It will replace a pickup that has been in use for about 10 years.
The commissioners also approved the purchase of 30,000 tons of gravel at $6.70 per ton.
Written by Herald-News
The Wolf Point man who drove the getaway car in the Northern Lights Casino robbery nearly two years ago pleaded guilty last week.
Patrick Beauchamp, 35, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls.
Beauchamp was charged with aiding and abetting a robbery after he planned the robbery with others and served as the getaway driver. He faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 27 at 11 a.m. before Morris.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Weiss told the court that on June 12, 2013, Beauchamp and three others drove around Wolf Point and discussed robbing a casino. Beauchamp was driving and two others got out and went into the Northern Lights Casino with weapons and their faces covered.
One of the robbers hit a casino employee over the head with an axe handle while the other held customers at bay with a bat. The first robber stole money from the casino and the two ran out to the waiting vehicle driven by Beauchamp. More than $1,340 was stolen from the casino.
Police pulled over the men’s car moments later. Officers found cash strewn throughout the vehicle, as well as the bat. The axe handle was found on the floor of the casino.
The Wolf Point Police Department and Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice investigated the case.
Written by Herald-News
Thirteen candidates are running for two positions on the Poplar School board in the school district election Tuesday, May 4.
The Herald-News sent questionnaires to every candidate. They did not all respond.
The candidates are Howard Azure, Scotty Azure, Jodie Boyd, Thomas Brown, George Budak, James DeHerrerra, Susan Ennis, Rick Kirn, Shannon Knowlton, Deb McGowan, Faith O’Connor, Gary Sadler and Noah Strauser.
Boyd, O’Connor, Sadler and Strauser did not respond to a questionnaire by the time The Herald-News went to press. We were unable to contact Howard Azure prior to deadline.
Why did you declare yourself a candidate for the school board?
Thomas Brown: I would like to see a representative on the school board to address the needs of students, staff and the work force in the district. I would like to see all staff and faculty work together to meet the educational need of all students in our school district. I would address the needs of the school district and make some changes for a positive outcome. At the moment I don’t see any communication within the school system. What do I hope to accomplish as a school board member? Be a good listener and get all the facts to make a positive decision for each issue the school district bring forth. I may make some mistakes once but will try not to make them twice. I do more community events to get the parents and grandparents involved in their students education needs. I would also like the district hire our own staff who we are educated and have the degree to prove they are well qualified. The district should be hiring some of our local staff members who have been living in the community all their life they know the people. Some staff members have made adjustment to in their lives to get an education to better themselves their family and the community in which they live in. These staff members I know are the pillar of the community with the ability to help the school grow as well as helping the student, community and district come together to meet the educational needs.
George Budak: I am not new to the how the board should work. I was on the board several years ago. I am interested in strong Education and more training for students in different types of job skills.
James DeHerrera: I declared myself a candidate for the Poplar school board of trustees because I believe that I have the knowledge and training to effectively help. All I want to accomplish is our students to have a safe environment to learn without conflict.
Susan Ennis: As a substitute teacher I have noticed that the Poplar School District has a number of positives and a number of challenges. I am interested in finding ways to maximize on the strengths so that students have the best possible educational experience. As a member of the school board I hope that I would be able to facilitate ways that students can be affirmed and successful.
Rick Kirn: The main reason is to make sure the school is doing everything they can to provide a safe and productive environment to focus on improving education for students. As a member of the Tribal Council, I can assist with communication between the school and tribal programs that support education. [i.e. Tribal Courts, Tribal Education Office]. We need families to understand they are a very important part of education. I have many years of experience on a variety of boards — the Montana Board of Crime Control and Montana Reserve Waters Rights Commission [both appointments by the governor], NEMHS, New Life Mission and the tribal council. I understand the role of the board member. I believe I could help improve communication between the school community and the Tribe.
Shannon Knowlton: I chose to run for the Poplar School Board in an effort to remain connected to my first “love” — education. I continue to keep in contact with former students and teachers and enjoy discussing the district issues/news with community members. I have a passion for education and genuinely care about the children and young adults in our community. All of these factors contributed to my desire to run for the School Board. I want the best education possible for all students and will work hard to ensure that every child is given every opportunity for success at Poplar schools.
Deb McGowan: I am concerned about the education of students within the Poplar School system. I had three sons graduate from Poplar Schools and I worked within the system for 29 years. With the advent of No Child Left Behind, AYP challenges and the plethora of testing that has been mandated schools have needed to change to meet the needs of students. I want to ensure that Poplar Schools are striving to do everything possible to meet the needs of a diverse student population. As a Board Member, I want students to take ownership in their schools and to be proud to be a Poplar Indian. I want parents to feel comfortable in meeting with the administration and knowing that their concerns will be addressed, not just given lip service. I want taxpayers to know that their tax dollars are not being squandered. I would ultimately like to see all of the people who are presently sending their students to schools outside our District to rethink their decision. We need to prove that we are working hard to do the best job possible.
What do you see as being the major issues facing the school district?
Brown: Communication. It seems to be the down fall of decisions being made without looking at the long term outcomes. Decisions are being made without discussing what the real problems are in the school district. Why have long term goals [strategic plan] in place for the district to follow but changes are made for a short term decisions. The district needs to follow their own plan that was put in place through a strategic goals and objectives plan of action. At the moment I don’t see much of this happening.
Budak: Too much foolish spending and lack of strong leadership, at times.
DeHerrera: I see the major issues being the adults don’t play nice together. Every one of the staff is so passionate about their duties that the students suffer because of the inability to compromise. I believe that the students come first. All decisions should always be about the students.
Ennis: Communication seems to be a huge issue in the school district. There are miscommunications and lack of communication. These disconnects in communication cause frustration at all levels from the staff to the district office. In light of both miscommunication and the lack of communication frustrations are turning into verbal hostilities, which are taking away from focusing on educating the students.
Kirn: The school has not met AYP standards for many years. Also a major issue at this time is board/superintendent relationships. We have had three superintendents in the last four years. That is a major concern.
Knowlton: The largest issues I see presently at Poplar Schools is a lack of communication and transparency throughout the district.
McGowan: Within the last few years, the relationship between the Poplar Schools superintendents, school boards, staff and the public has deteriorated dramatically. I have seen employee morale plummet, confidence in leadership fall to all time lows and most importantly, parents questioning whether their children are safe or are being properly educated in our system. Channels of communication have been closed and intimidation has apparently become a tool to be used to quash any dissent.
What areas of the school system do you feel are the most in need of improvement? How would you address those areas?
Brown: At times I have seen the district make budget cuts in programs because we don’t like or understand the programs. Some of these programs being cut are the programs OPI said we should be working with and not getting rid of them will not solve anything. I would highly recommend the communication between the students, community members, parents, teaching staff, administration and superintendent work together to meet the educational needs of our students.
Budak: Poplar School has become landlords. We need housing for our teachers but I feel this housing was poorly planned and would have served a better purpose if they had been build as a well built apartment building. Relationship between teachers and leadership could improve. I also believe in merit pay for excellent teachers.
DeHerrera: I would like to see more Indian Education aligned within all grades of the district. Poplar School District is 96 to 98 percent Native American. I believe that our students should have the ability to learn more about their culture and language. [Montana code annotated 21-1-501 Indian Education For All]. All staff should be encouraged to understand the culture to help them with their students.
Ennis: Students in the school system need to have resources to be the best they can be, resources such as qualified and enthusiastic teachers, supplies, texts, and a stable, safe environment. I would like to see that the Poplar school district continues to have best possible resources so that students may thrive. The focus needs to stay on the students and how their education can best be accomplished while supporting teachers so that they may make the best use of their time to prevent burnout.
Kirn: It needs to be clearly understood the role of the Board, the Superintendent, principals and teachers. There is a process for communication that should be followed.
Knowlton: Other areas of concern include low teacher morale, excessive program implementation and high teacher turnover rates. Communication is key in the success of any organization. Providing an open/non-threatening environment for staff and administration to discuss, brainstorm and find resolutions together will help a number of the current issues facing Poplar Schools. I will advocate for and encourage healthy discussions and feedback among administration and staff without the fear of retaliation. I believe that open and honest communication can help ease much of the tension currently plaguing the Poplar School system.
McGowan: If elected, my first order of concern would be the hiring of a strong leadership team to be put in place in the Poplar Middle School. Middle schools, by nature are challenging and exciting places to work! Students in these grades need clear, concise rules and caring individuals to ensure that these rules are understood and enforced. I would also want to make sure that every teacher is qualified and certified in the area for which they have been hired. A fact of educational life that affects us daily is the need for more specialized classrooms for our students that have been deemed to have educational disabilities. All students need a teacher and instructional setting that best suits their needs. We cannot warehouse our special needs students, nor expect our regular education classroom teachers to deal with the varying needs of 20 to 30 students. The number of special needs students are growing yearly and we must have the certified staff and paraprofessionals in place to meet this challenge. Another area that needs improvement is communication with the community. I would like to see a school newsletter at least once a month … posted on the website and mailed to the school patrons. I understand that the school website is currently “under construction.” It is important that this new website be easily navigable with all of the pertinent information posted including agendas, minutes, policies, collective bargaining agreements, etc. A portion of this newsletter needs to focus on the actual workings of the District. Explanations of school law that may be in question, descriptions of the negotiations procedures, or how hiring procedures are determined might be possible topics. I also feel that is important that our student activities and achievements be documented in our two local newspapers, weekly.
What areas do you feel have the most and least needs for spending by the school district?
Brown: Working with federal grants at times we had to spend allocated funds before the end of each fiscal grant year. The district is has made each building supervisors come up with a budget for each year based on need, goals and objectives. I hear from building staff members spending district funds but have no budget for this year as of today. How are they to know how much to spend or what areas of highest need. I know staff need housing and the school district has built homes they are still unoccupied at this time. The district has an obligation to educate student maybe it’s time to educate some board members on educational needs and budgets as well.
Budak: Keep education strong and good maintenance on our buildings. Foremost, keeping our kids safe. I know money is not always being spent right and would like to look into that part.
DeHerrera: I would like to see more relevant and engaging curriculum. I believe STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education would be a great benefit to our students. Hands on learning will keep students engaged.
Ennis: I have not yet had the opportunity to examine the budget to understand what spending looks like.
Kirn: Focus spending on improving education for students. There are many effective programs and the District should do whatever it takes to get that for our students. They will be our future leaders and I want to make sure they have the best educational opportunities so they are prepared when they graduate.
Knowlton: The areas I feel deserve the most spending are educational materials and technology. It is important to provide our students with research-based texts and materials as well as keeping up-to-date with new technologies. An area I view as needing less spending by the school district is unnecessary and excessive travel. I understand that many meetings and workshops take place outside our immediate area or state. It is also necessary to seek educational opportunities that meet the districts needs closer to home or via webinars.
McGowan: Presently, the only areas that I feel we need to have less spending would be our staff housing and new programming. We need to concentrate on completing our building projects with landscaping and clean up, get them rented and paid for. As far as programming, I think that we need to determine which programs are really doing the job, work the kinks out, make sure that all staff have bought into the program and go with it. We don’t need to jump on the next “greatest thing” every year. I also feel that with additional programming, we have a tendency to need more quasi-administrators…good teachers that could be in classrooms. I would love to see our gyms open all summer for camps for students in various activities…be it the basics — wrestling, basketball, football or for karate, gymnastics and dance. Spending money on bringing in “experts” in the field would be money well spent. Art, music and photography would be other areas that I think our students would appreciate. Poll the students as to what would interest them. Another area in which money would be well spent would be in the creation of a Middle School Alternative Learning Center. Although I am not privy to the statistics, I believe that most of our suspensions and expulsions come from the middle school age group. Perhaps an ALC would be the answer for students who have difficulty functioning in the regular classroom setting, and would ultimately keep them in school. I would advocate for additional staffing to ensure that parents are continually in “the loop” as to both behavioral and academic issues. Parents need to feel that they every attempt has been made to help their student achieve educational success. I know that our home school coordinators work very hard at this task already, but, perhaps the addition of a “Parent/Student Advocate” would help break down the barriers that many parents feel when their student has reached the end of their “disciplinary rope,” So many misconceptions and hostilities arise when parents feel backed into a corner. The Advocate could make sure that the family understands their student’s rights and the various alternative educational opportunities that are available to them. This person could also be available to attend meetings and hearings, so, there would be no question about what is expected from both the school and the student.
If any programs need to be cut in the future due to a budget shortfall, what would you cut first, second and third?
Brown: If staff did their job we shouldn’t have to hire outside resources to come into the school to do their job for them. Construction for staff housing I haven’t seen any positive outcome from this project besides I always thought we were in Education. We should put the focus on making AYP as mandated by the state and federal guide lines. If we have money hidden away within the district for a rainy day great let’s build some homes for staff until then focus on educational/staff/faculty needs. I was an employee for almost 17 year as the Safe & Drug Free, Center for Substance Abuse & Prevention (CSAP), Radio Station Manager, Bilingual Education, and Indian Education Director. I believe my work experience and ethics will help me make positive decision on issues within the school district if elected. I have served on several educational boards such as Montana Indian Education Association Board of Directors, National Association Bilingual Education Association, Ft. Peck Housing Board of Directors, Ft. Peck Community College Board of Directors and Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education. With your support I would like to put my work experience to use for the Poplar School District Board.
Budak: If worse comes to worse, I would check into less sport travels and turn to a strong intramural program. Do away with Greyhound buses and go to custom-made yellow buses that can also be used on bus routes. Less wasted educational time.
DeHerrera: I would like to see that any new programs that don’t show student engagement, student performance or student success be eliminated first.
Ennis: Again, until I have the opportunity to examine the budget and understand not only where spending is occurring but also the sources of funding along with the qualifications of the funding sources I cannot responsibly answer this question.
Kirn: I don’t have any specific information or recommendation at this time on necessary cuts.
Knowlton: Before I would cut any programs, I would seek out grants or other funding opportunities to assist covering those costs. Many schools are quick to cut the arts programs (music, band, choir, etc.) but research has shown that these programs are detrimental to the academic growth and success of students.
McGowan: I have not seen a Poplar Schools budget, so, would have no knowledge upon which to base an answer to this question. I would hope that if the time should come for this type of discussion, all stakeholders in the district would be given an opportunity to present pros, cons and ideas on how to resolve the problem.