MINOT, N.D. — The race for Superintendent of Schools between incumbent Kirsten Baesler and Underwood Superintendent Brandt Dick is getting heated, which is unusual. The campaigns for this office, rightly or wrongly, typically fly under the radar.
Earlier this month, Dick questioned Baesler's teaching qualifications, with Baesler responding by suggesting that Dick undervalues the contributions of nonlicensed education professionals.
Now, in a new post on Facebook, Dick is attacking Baesler's attendance record, documenting the incumbent's absences at meetings of the Career and Technical Education Board, the Board of University and School Lands (Land Board), the North Dakota High School Activities Board, and the Teachers Fund for Retirement Board.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as the State Superintendent, and I take seriously all the responsibilities that come with the role. By law or regulation, the state superintendent is a member of more than 15 boards, councils, and commissions. But the job is much more than attending board meetings," Baesler said when asked to respond. "The superintendent must build communication with citizens, develop education initiatives, develop partnerships with its stakeholders and other state agencies, and mentor staff to deliver outcomes that lead to better student achievement for all students. The superintendent must administer an agency and its employees and find efficiencies in its operations. When I am unable to attend meetings of a board, it is because I am balancing responsibilities as the State Superintendent for our state on behalf of our students, teachers, and families."
Baesler also suggested that an overlapping schedule for meetings makes it difficult to attend them all.
"For example, the board of the Teachers' Fund for Retirement, the Board of University and School Lands (the Land Board), and the High School Activities Association's board of directors generally meet on the same day of the month, in cities 130 miles apart," Baesler spokesman Dale Wetzel told me. "The High School Activities Association's board meets in person in Valley City. The TFFR board and Board of University and School Lands meet in Bismarck."
"On Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, the Board of University and School Lands met from 9 a.m. to noon in Bismarck," he continued. "The K-12 Education Coordinating Council, which was formed by the 2019 Legislature, met from noon to 5 p.m. By law, the superintendent of public instruction is a member of the council. The High School Activities Association met in Valley City; the association's board meetings generally last all day. The Teachers' Fund for Retirement board met from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Bismarck. These were all on the same day."
Referring specifically to the CTE meetings in 2018, Wetzel said that the board chair scheduled the meeting without consulting with statewide officials such as NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott, former Commerce Department director Michelle Kommer and Baesler. The incumbent requested a change in the schedule, but the meetings weren't moved.
Wetzel said that when Baesler cannot attend a meeting, she still reviews the materials, asks questions of staff, and briefs the board chair on her thoughts.
He also questioned Dick's dedication to his job, noting that he lives in Bismarck and not in his school district in Underwood.
"Mr. Dick spends a great deal of time during the legislative session and at other times as a lobbyist for the school administrators' association, rather than being present at his job as superintendent in the Underwood school district. It is not uncommon to see him at the Capitol most days of session and quite frequently during the interim," Wetzel said. "Mr. Dick makes sure he is available for Bismarck lobbying by keeping his home in Bismarck; his children attend school in the Bismarck district. Mr. Dick does not live in Underwood or McLean County, and his children do not attend school in Underwood. In other words, Mr. Dick does not eat his own cooking."
"There's truth to the fact that I live in Bismarck," Dick said in response to Wetzel's comments, "but I would definitely say if you want the complete balance to that, ask my board if I'm fulfilling my duties."
Brandt said his choice to live in Bismarck was made in 2011 when he was a half-time superintendent both in Underwood, which is about 50 miles north of Bismarck, and Hazelton, which is rough 50 miles southeast.
"My wife continues to work in the Bismarck area," Dick added, noting that it's not uncommon for superintendents not to live in the school districts where they work.
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