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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 27 2010

Fargo voters will have more say in school building plans

Fargo School District voters will have a greater say in whether some new school construction projects are built.

The school board voted 7-1 on Tuesday to approve a policy that requires Building Authority projects paid for with general fund money to be approved by more than 50 percent of the voters in an election.

The vote was a victory for board member John Strand, who has pushed for more public input on school construction.

“I sincerely believe that it would be a step in good faith to show the public that we are going to tighten our belts to some degree,” Strand told the board.

The policy says “we’re paying very serious attention to the desire of the community to measure our construction activity, but yet at the same time, still go forward and meet our needs,” he said.

Strand stressed that the vote only affected the Building Authority.

Fargo has a 15-mill building levy allowed by state law, and 11.4 mills approved by voters, he said.

That 26.4 mills can be used by the school board for projects it deems appropriate, Strand said.

“I believe we will be able to live within our means,” he said, adding that the 50 percent plus one vote threshold shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish.

Board President Jim Johnson said research found that the policy wouldn’t affect current bonds. Also, the North Dakota School Boards Association counseled that Fargo can hold such votes, even though they’re not spelled out in state statute.

“This truly does allow the public a voice, one way or another,” Johnson said.

The only dissenting vote came from Paul Meyers, who said that the policy would have little effect on the school board’s ability to approve building projects.

He added that he believed voters would have difficulty absorbing much of the material the board studies in the short time before an election and may not be able to make a well-informed decision.

Kris Wallman countered by saying, “We have an informed public,” noting that it was the general public who selected the school board.

Board member Rick Steen also noted that future school boards could decide to change the policy.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583