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Published September 28 2010

Forum editorial: Pandering not same as leading

Members of the Fargo School Board were elected to make decisions – sometimes difficult or unpopular decisions. If they aren’t up to the task, they are on the wrong public board. If they want to toss every tough call to a vote, they don’t understand their responsibility and authority

as elected officeholders.

Later today, the school board will consider a resolution by board member John Strand, likely with the support of two new members of the nine-member board. The measure has the potential to erode the effectiveness of a school building and renovation fund that has been a remarkable success for nearly 20 years. Passed by 72 percent of district voters in 1991, the

11.4-mill fund has proved to be an efficient and cost-effective mechanism to build and improve schools without raising property taxes for specific projects. The fund also includes proceeds from a base 15 mills.

Managed by a Building Authority formed in 1988 and the board, the fund has not only helped hold taxes in check but also has allowed the district to leverage other funds at reasonable cost, thus further saving taxpayers money. New buildings have been built in anticipation of needs, and older buildings have been expanded, renovated and repurposed. And all was done without adding to the burden of district taxpayers.

Yet that’s not good enough for a cadre of board members who seem more interested in pandering to a few loud voices rather than preserving financial integrity and smart management.

Strand says he’s only interested in targeting the Building Authority, which might be a compromise stance because the majority of the board supports the school building fund as structured and managed. The authority and the building fund were found to be legal in a 2008 attorney general’s opinion, which was requested by a Fargo legislator.

It’s always savvy to favor a vote on expensive public school building projects. But a savvy position is not necessarily a financially or educationally sound one. Indeed, a few Fargo legislators have joined Strand and his board allies on the pander wagon.

The questions remain: If they don’t want to make the big decisions, why are they on the board? If they don’t have confidence in their own abilities and competence to lead rather than follow a noisy minority, why are they are the board?

One legislator suggested voters in 1991 didn’t know what they were voting for. Not only is that insulting, it also contradicts the proposition that voters should vote on big-ticket items. By such logic, if they didn’t get it 1991, they won’t get it in 2010.

Most board members understand their jobs – even when they take an allegedly unpopular stand. In the spirit of doing what is right for the district in the long term, they should reject Strand’s resolution.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.