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School district violated state law This is an e-mail that I sent to members of the Billings Education Association on May 21 regarding the extension of the school year.

I was disheartened to see the news coverage of the settlement. The news stations and papers seemed to forget several really important principles. First, the court has found that the school district violated the law when it opened the schools during the strike. The violation was not a technicality; the district violated the Constitution. There are consequences for that violation, and the district is now facing those consequences. Second, school is not punishment, and we should not tell our children that they are being punished by an opportunity to learn. Third, the teachers are not being given a break or some sort of gift. The teachers are not being paid for strike days; we are being paid to work. The district budgeted for educational days and money remains in that budget. The district wisely chose to spend its year-end funds, (which exist because of strike-related savings), for the purpose originally budgeted: education for kids.

Let's strive to make the last week of school a wonderful learning experience for all students. Please take the time to write to your parents in the weekly folders each week until the end of the year. Explain what you will be doing in the classroom the week of June 9-13. If you are covering materials that you did not have time to cover during the year, say so. Encourage participation with a positive message and encourage parents to call you with any questions they have.

Allen Audet, president

Billings Education Association

Billings

Extra days send wrong message I don't feel that it is right that the school board decided 14 days before school is out that they are extending the school year. I know that it is voluntary, but it is not right. Why don't we save the schools' electricity and just give the teachers their five-day bonus for those days?

Is this really the message that we want to send to the kids? Throw a fit, sue, do whatever it takes to get what you want. I don't think so.

Mindi Hopkin

Billings

Billings teachers victims of strike, too Finally a victory for our children's education! I am pleased with the recent decision by the School Board to give back real school days with real teachers. The timing is, of course, unfortunate; however, it is better than disregarding the value of educating children in a meaningful way.

I urge all parents to support your children's teachers. They are professionals who are driven by a passion to teach young people. Despite some of the public comments, I truly believe they want to fulfill their duty to educating children this school year even while enduring a financial loss. To say that adding more days to this school year is "punishing" children is unfair. Since when is going to school punishment? It is a privilege our society values. Instilling that type of attitude in your children is irresponsible parenting. We must remember that teachers were victims of this strike, too. It was the School Board that pushed them to their limits and now must fix what they have broken and violated. Thank goodness we now have a board that is going to behave more responsibly. Send your children to school June 9-13. Allow them the quality education they deserve and accentuate the positive opportunities these five days provide.

Janelle Jennings-Berry

Billings

Some teachers fail to set good examples How many times did we hear it: "I just want to be here for the kids"; "I love the kids"; "I'd rather be in the classroom than on the picket line." How many times did we hear them say the one group they didn't want to hurt was the kids? Those kind, gentle, caring elementary teachers.

Then it was over and triumphantly the teachers returned to the classroom, arm in arm trumpeting "we're back."

The strike was over, teachers and students were in the classroom and all was, and has been, right with the world - not! These professionals have treated teachers, who did what they thought was right and crossed the picket lines every day, as pariahs. Ostracizing, harassing, intimidating, demanding the transfer of a teacher; can't you just feel the love? I wonder if some of the students who went to school during the strike have felt the love also.

Now, these professionals who do not want to "hurt the kids" are going to go five extra days. Why? Pure and simple, for the money, and where does it come from? Money earmarked for textbooks and supplies for the very kids they don't want to hurt. Are you feeling the love?

And what about those days? What will they do? There will be no report cards to worry about, no tests to study for, no homework to correct, no attendance to take, basically no real need to learn.

I know a few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel and it would be unfair to lump all teachers in this category, but as I recall, that is what they did to the subs (many of whom were certified, competent teachers). To all of the truly dedicated teachers, thank you for the time and effort; to the rest - feel the love.

Jackie Christiansen

Billings

Charter school alternative needed The complaining from the Montana School Boards Association and the Montana Education Association is making me sick. Enrollments are declining, so the amount of funding and the number of teachers must also decline. If those leading our public schools truly had vision and guts, then they would find a way to do more with less.

Rob Natelson suggested that Montana allow charter schools. I agree 100 percent. If my 14-month-old daughter turns out to be gifted in math and science, then I would like to send her to a school that develops that gift fully. Billings already has three high schools. Why not give one of them a charter to serve the gifted children of the community? Why not give one of them a charter to serve those children with learning problems? We live in a rural state. Why not take advantage of Internet and computer instruction to save building and transportation costs? These are the sort of ideas lacking from the school boards and teachers across the state.

Look in the mirror and ask yourselves why enrollments are declining. More and more Montanans are choosing alternatives to public schools. Could it be that they are just as disgusted as I am?

Virgil Middendorf

Billings

Stillwater mines hold strategic metals It is quite common for an entity acquiring control of another to argue that the acquisition is for investment purposes only and that management, staffing, operations, etc. will be unchanged.

However, when the two companies are competitors (i.e. Norilsk and Stillwater) that is very rarely the case. Usually, in a very short time, management, staff and operations all change, often times dramatically. Why else make the acquisition if not to reduce costs, improve efficiency, marketing and, ultimately, profits?

I caution Stillwater shareholders, and the Montanans who influence them, to be very careful in accepting a change of corporate control in favor of an entity that has very low production costs (less than $25 per ounce of by-product palladium) and which hungers for an entry into the U.S. marketplace. Stillwater's NYSE listing and relationship with the auto companies must be very tempting to Norilsk whereas Stillwater's relatively high-cost mines might seem less attractive, particularly after the deal is completed.

With Stillwater, Norilsk and Russia will control more than 65 percent of the world's palladium supply. Wouldn't it be better for Montana and the U.S. to retain domestic control of the only platinum/palladium mine in this country and assure our supply of these strategic metals? The jobs of hundreds of Montanans should not be taken lightly either.

David B. Rovig

Billings

Speak up for rights of surface landowners Imagine your family had homesteaded land in the Powder River Basin over 100 years ago and taken care of it for five generations. Now you discover that a company that paid $2 an acre for an oil and gas lease on your land has more rights to it than you do. They can come on your land and devastate your livelihood. You have almost no say in the matter. To add insult to injury, you discover that you are paying them to do it with your tax dollars. That is the situation that my family is faced with, and it is the reason I went to Washington, D.C.

While I was there, I met with 10 people from five different Western states to lobby senators over the upcoming energy bill.

A lot of people who own land in the West do not own the oil and gas under their land. As the law stands, the oil and gas right takes precedence over the surface right. Our lobby group went to the offices of some 30 key senators, including the four from Montana and Wyoming, to ask them to support an amendment to the energy bill to give landowners a minimal amount of protection in this "split-estate" situation.

We also asked them to do something about Section 29 tax-credits for coalbed methane. This tax-credit is supposed to promote "unconventional fuels." There are some 100,000 permitted CBM wells in the West with tens of thousands more on the way. CBM is the fastest growing and most profitable fuel industry in this country - not an unconventional fuel. We asked senators to support an amendment aimed at removing Section 29 tax credits for CBM development.

We received a very positive response from the Senate offices we visited. I encourage readers who are concerned about these issues to contact their senators.

Andrew Lemann

Birney

Drunken drivers ought to be jailed How many DUIs does a person need to get in this city before they spend a long time in a cell?

Recently there was a man in court for his seventh DUI. What's going on here? No wonder MADD has given Montana a low grade when it comes to driv-ing under the influence. Things seem a bit backward when someone can be freely roaming the streets after that many DUIs, and then someone who is going 45 in a 35 gets the book thrown at them. Now I'm not saying either is right, but let's put things into perspective a bit here in the "magic" city.

Les Young

Billings

Kiedrowski's comments more dirty politics Mike Kiedrowski's comments about Brian Schweitzer's donors (May 21 Gazette) make it clear that the party that claims it will "change the tone" and "restore dignity" really will only create division, smear its opponents and drag politics down into the mud.

Schweitzer has raised a lot of money. Obviously, that is going to make some Republicans unhappy, but that does not warrant ridiculing the hard-working Montanans who have contributed to Brian's campaign. These donors aren't "radical environmentalists" or "extreme leftists" - they're Montanans who want better-paying jobs, a clean environment for their children and a strong school system.

Kiedrowski's rhetoric is part of the "tone" that needs changing and an example of why we need to bring dignity back to politics. But I wanted to say that Brian should be thanking Kiedrowski who just got Schweitzer another donor.

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Matt Singer

Missoula

Billings visit created great memories My name is Beth Taylor and I, quite simply, fell in love with your neck of the woods! My husband and I traveled to Billings last year in early summer. We were there to participate in the ABC National Bowling Tournament and found nothing but amazing scenery and wonderfully accommodating people. For going on a year now, I have read up on the area between Billings, Red Lodge, Cody and Yellowstone. The Beartooth Pass was undoubtedly the most breathtaking stretch of scenic highway I have ever had the opportunity to travel.

I was born and raised in North Alabama and have lived here all my 32 years. To this day I feel that part of my very soul is still in Montana wandering the Rims and walking the banks of the Yellowstone. If, before our trip, I had doubts about the connection one can forge with a place as well as a person, I have no doubts now.

My husband promises that next year he will bring me back. I have to admit that the very thought lightens my step and brings an instant smile to my face that even my friends and family notice. I even go as far as to check the weather for Billings online almost every day just to see if the sun is shining. When I'm not online, the screensaver on my computer scrolls "Wonder what they're doing in Montana today?"

Thank you so much for your time. I just felt that the special people in Billings would like to know why I have their Sunday paper sent to Florence, Ala., every week.

Beth Taylor

Florence, Ala.

Kemmick shouldn't write off Free-Staters Ed Kemmick thinks, "Free-Staters probably won't target Montana" (May 18). Well, I wouldn't write off Montana so quickly! He discusses some of the criteria that have been suggested for choosing a state, but many of those criteria have changed or come under contention. For example, many Free-Staters think a higher-density state would be better, but equally many think a low-density state with plenty of space would be best. Judging from the intensity of promotion from the backers of various states, I'd say Montana might be in the top four states with a chance of winning our membership vote.

As to whether a group as diverse as ours will be able to accomplish anything once settled in our chosen state - only time will tell. However, we've gotten a lot of local support in Montana and several other states under consideration. In whatever state we choose, I think most of us will fit right in.

Jason Sorens, President

Free State Project

Asheville, N.C.

Comic strip highlights Gazette pages Contrary to Steve Holle, I think that the "Doonesbury" strip is one of the better reasons to receive The Gazette in my home. I look forward to it every day - especially Sunday, when, if I were rich, I would sponsor its appearance on a billboard. It's that good. And as for Steve's thinking that Garry is over the edge even for liberals, he can't even see the edge from where he is! You go, Garry! And for those who prefer your comedy in "short story" form, stay tuned for Molly Ivins.

Bob Kimpton

Billings

'Mallard,' 'Doonsebury' balance each other I read Steve Holle's May 17 letter ("'Doonesbury' ought to be stripped out") and would like to comment.

I live in Sheridan, Wyo., where the publisher of The Sheridan Press declines to publish "Doonesbury" on the grounds, I've heard, that he doesn't care for Trudeau's liberal bent and also doesn't think the strip mirrors the prevailing politics of Sheridan.

I've always felt the publisher of The Gazette was praiseworthy for putting "Mallard Fillmore" and "Doonesbury" side by side. I think having both right and left views expressed is healthy and mirrors the best of what the word democracy means.

My own bias would like to see "Mallard Fillmore" "stripped out." As a liberal, I don't like Bruce Tinsley's snideness, but then I don't see, as writer Holle does, that Trudeau is "not only stuck in the '60s but (also) has become shrill to the level where even the most liberal Democrats must be plugging their ears." Actually, I enjoy Trudeau's strip immensely; I don't like Tinsely's.

Ain't America great?

Osea C. Nelson, II

Sheridan, Wyo.

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