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Letter: State has authority over rail bridge

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State has authority over rail bridge

Blake Nicholson did a good job reviewing the meeting on BNSF’s permit to build a new bridge that will mean destruction of our historic 1883 rail bridge. But two points need to be understood about the state’s authority over this process.

BNSF says it “has clear title to the bridge through an 1864 act of Congress which granted … a right of way through public lands.” The last part of that is correct, the Northern Pacific railroad got a right of way. Even if that could be construed to provide a title of ownership, it was extinguished by a subsequent act of Congress in 1889 which created North Dakota as a state entering the United States with all the original rights of the original 13 states and every state added after that. One of those rights was ownership and control of the navigable waters of the state, including the Missouri River.

The second point is that title to the bridge is not the only factor giving North Dakota the right to determine the disposition of the bridge. State law makes the State Historical Society responsible for any historic structure or artifact located or found on state property. There is no doubt that the bridge is on state property, that is, the Missouri River. Therefore, no one can destroy the historic bridge without approval by the State Historical Society and no one has that approval.

Tracy Potter, Bismarck

Showing forgiveness is a good example

The Bismarck School Board and members of the district can be good examples to our children by showing forgiveness to someone who has made a mistake. Our children need to see that they, too, can be forgiven when they do something wrong. That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for our actions, but forgiveness was taught to us by the greatest teacher of all time. When people were going to stone a woman for sinning, He said, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” And, all walked away. He told the woman to go and sin no more, but since we are human that is impossible. But, we can forgive! I am not condoning the actions toward our law enforcement people who deserve respect for what they do to keep us safe, but I would like to see the Board and our community show forgiveness. I think that can be the better lesson we can show our children.

Roswell Henke, Bismarck

State pension has not met expectations

After teaching 34 years in secondary ed in North Dakota, I drew my pension through the ND Teachers Fund for Retirement, (TFFR.) However, in the 16 years since retiring, over 9,000 other retired educators and I have yet to receive a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). In my case, that means the check I receive today is worth only 40% of when I started drawing. How many people, including legislators, would accept a 60% loss in pay over a decade and a half? Inflation in the last two years alone will reduce our pensions by double digits.

In the funds newsletter in 2012, retirees were chastised for not being patient enough in expectation of a COLA. Ten years later, and a more than doubling of equity markets, have we been patient enough?

After the 2008 market crash, with the fund showing future actuarial shortcomings, the legislature increased contribution rates for active teachers and districts to a combined 24.5%, and yet the three billion dollar fund still has not been able to pay even a modest COLA.

For the second legislative session in a row, lawmakers will add funds to the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement Fund (NDPERS), the sister fund to TFFR. Now it’s time for Legislators to step up and show respect for the value educators have provided for our youth and state.

In an August 24 story, Governor Burgum reported revenues for the biennium were 20.5% above forecasts. Quoting Burgum; “Bottom line, the state’s doing extremely well. It doesn’t make sense for the state to keep stockpiling more cash. We need to get it back into the hands of citizens.”

Any educator considering retirement, or any person considering education as a career, should be aware of what to expect from a pension in North Dakota which has not met expectations.

Carol Dahlstrom, Hillsboro

Online university funded over ND

Most people in North Dakota know that we have a very worrisome teacher shortage in the state, and that the teaching programs at our universities are working on ways to recruit more future teachers. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) is also working on this issue. However, recently I was deeply saddened to learn that hundreds of thousands of dollars were awarded to Western Governors University (an online university in Utah) when it could have been awarded to a teaching college within the state of ND.

Within the past year, three paraprofessional-to-teacher pathway type programs have been funded by NDDPI, using ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) dollars, ranging from $575,000-$750,000, to assist with the statewide teacher shortage. These programs allow the teacher candidate to remain within their own ND communities working within their assigned schools while completing the requirements to obtain a teaching degree.

In late 2022, the NDDPI announced to ND universities that they would be calling for a fourth round of proposals for a secondary education para-to-teacher program in the new year. These universities, which include 11 teacher education programs, were told to wait for more information on when proposals would be accepted. Instead, on Jan. 10, NDDPI, and the ND Governor’s office, announced they partnered with Western Governors University and had awarded the ESSER dollars to a college outside of North Dakota. It is absurd that both NDDPI and the Governor’s office didn’t even provide an opportunity for our own ND teaching colleges to submit proposals and gave the money to an out of state university instead.

Essentially, North Dakota decided to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to an out-of-state university, and now those paras will obtain a teaching degree from the state of Utah, instead of from an in-state university.

Julie Reiten, Grand Forks

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