Williston, ND (KEYZ) Cleaning up procedures and cleaning up the books took center stage at Tuesday's board meeting for Williston Basin School District #7.

The plan for negotiating with the Williston Education Association in 2022 will now include bringing in an attorney from Bismarck to negotiate contracts with the teacher's association.

"We have to have a relationship with our educators as we're making decisions that affect them in the classroom," said Board Member Cory  Swint.  "With the way negotiations went last time, I believe this is a necessary need though I wish it wasn't necessary.  I fully support it."

The board approved the addition of Vogel Law's Seth Thompson to lead negotiations with WEA although not without reservations from some.

"I am still against this, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I was a part of the previous negotiating team -- I really don't want to be on it -- I just disagree with having an attorney be the negotiator," said Board Member Heather Wheeler.

The biggest fear from those who took issue with the motion Tuesday night was the fear of making teachers defensive and causing another contentious round of negotiations.

Despite also being in favor of bringing an attorney on board for future talks with WEA, Board Member Sarah Williams expressed, very candidly, a different fear.  "I'm just going to say this . . . Last year, our Negotiations Team was meeting with WEA, outside of board meetings, and I had to bring that to our chair and our vice chair last year.  I'm not going through that again.  And, they were having private meetings.  They were calling us incapable of doing our jobs."

To add to Williams' unease about the integrity of the board ahead of a new school year, discussion also ensued over whether a still unnamed board member who leaked information from an executive session last fall may still be a sitting member, with the investigation into the matter having been quashed after major missteps in procedure by members of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

For its part, WEA expressed its disappointment with the board's decision to hire an attorney for negotiations through a statement:

"WEA is disappointed in the WBSD #7 school board and their decision to hire an attorney to negotiate with WEA next year. As board member John Kasmer suggested, WEA feels it would be best to collaborate with the board on the process of crafting our negotiated agreement. We also agree with Board Members Heather Wheeler and Chris Walstad, who stated that we need to build trust. We are still hopeful we can move towards collaboration without an attorney for the upcoming school year.

Board members also made headway Tuesday in continuing to get their fiscal house in order especially as it relates to holdings encumbered under the former Williston Public Schools District 1, voting to approve moving forward on a land swap with the City of Williston.  Board President Chris Jundt stressed that exchanging the district's Wilkinson Elementary School parcel for the city-owned parcel near Williston High School made the most sense fiscally.

"The board has [gone] through the process of having our land valued as far as an appraisal goes and has made a determination that it makes best fiscal sense for us to look at the land swap here rather than a cash outright purchase," said Jundt.

The land that the City of Williston will be receiving from the school district is speculated to be earmarked to then be sold for the forthcoming outdoor pool project in Williston.

The next Regular Meeting of the Williston Basin School District 7 School Board is scheduled for August 8, 2022.

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