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Wendy Reuer, Published November 06 2010

Increase in turnout helps Moorhead school levy passage

Increased communication helped the Moorhead Public Schools levy referendum pass, officials say, but a huge jump in voter turnout may have also affected the turnaround.

District voters passed an $850-per-pupil levy referendum Tuesday, giving the district $5.2 million a year starting next school year. The vote came a year after the same referendum failed.

The referendum fell 117 votes short in November 2009, with 50.7 percent, or 4,194, voting “no” and 49.3 percent, or 4,079 votes, in favor. A total of 8,273 votes were cast.

This year, with the levy question posed during a general election, turnout jumped 57 percent with 12,995 votes cast. Of those, the levy passed with 53.5 percent, or 6,950 “yes” votes and 46.5 percent, or 6,045 votes, against.

Residents told district officials a lack of communication was the primary reason for the failure in 2009, so they were determined to change that this year.

“Over 40 presentations were made to any group that would have people in,” said Bill Tomhave, a school board member who also won re-election Tuesday.

Seven “listening sessions” were scheduled this fall, during which district officials heard questions and comments from the public. A “yes group” led by residents sponsored weekly meetings, a blog at www.areavoices.com, a Facebook page with 650 members and a website, ourstudentsourfuture.com.

Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak said the information was out there last year and a citizens’ group also worked hard last year, but this year, there was simply more.

Still, some areas were not swayed. Ward 1 in north Moorhead voted “no” in 2009 and again this year. A majority of votes from townships outside the city of Moorhead were also a “no” vote.

Part of the schools’ boundary leaks into the city of Dilworth. Voters there sent a resounding “no” to the school board, with 220 votes against the levy and only 90 for it in this year’s election.

This year’s vote was not as clear-cut in Sabin – where boundaries also extend – with 97 “no” and 89 “yes” votes.

A flip-flop did take place this year inside the city of Moorhead. Two areas that voted “no” in 2009 were converted to a “yes” vote this year: Ward 1 Precinct 3 and Ward 2 Precinct 3.

Kazmierczak said those neighborhoods may have been reached by the citizen groups that targeted some neighborhoods, dropping extra literature.

“Some neighborhoods may have been reached that were not reached last year,” Kazmierczak said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530