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Kelly Smith, Published March 19 2009

Group backs second WF high school

A second West Fargo high school is the overwhelming preference for one group of community members. But the question now is, Does the rest of the city agree?

Four of the about 60 West Fargo parents, teachers and students informally polled Wednesday preferred keeping the growing community at one high school. Supporters of two high schools cited more academic and athletic opportunities, smaller classes and closer personal connections as reasons for their support.

“I feel like now the group’s say on this is the way to go,” said Superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace. “(But) the test is if it’s the feel of the community.”

Wednesday was the fourth advisory committee meeting of community members giving the school board and administration their input. Up next is the final advisory meeting next Wednesday and then the district will host open forums to the public.

Besides the “emotional” issue of splitting the Packers, a tough selling point likely will come down to money.

The three projects the district says it needs – a new southside elementary school, a second middle or high school and Horace Elementary expansion – have an estimated price tag of $65 million.

So, what will come out of taxpayers’ pockets if the May referendum passes? It actually might be less than what they pay now.

If the Legislature passes the governor’s property tax relief plan in House Bill 2199, it will allow school districts to cut their property taxes by 75 mills.

That means the current 245 mills West Fargo asks for now will be reduced by 75 mills. Then, if the referendum passes, add back 33 mills. The translation to dollars means that a West Fargo owner of a $100,000 home will pay a little more than $900 in property taxes to the school district – $189 less than this year.

Resident Todd Fuchs said that while he doesn’t have a student in the district now, a second high school means “it’s twice the opportunities for our youth.”

Kristen Heitkamp, a West Fargo mother of two elementary students, agrees. “I don’t care how much it costs me, I just want that opportunity for my children,” she said. “This is about the kids.”

After next week’s meeting, it will be the rest of the community’s chance to weigh in.

“I don’t think people are informed enough, and that’s where we’ll have to do a lot of work,” Heitkamp said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515