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Dave Olson, Published May 15 2011

Former ‘no’ voter urges a ‘yes’ vote

I am a West Fargo School Board member, and I voted “no” on the past two bond referendums, not because I was against new schools but more because of the plan, not being sufficiently convinced on the predicted student numbers and the financial implications after new buildings are built.

I would like to explain my change to a “yes” vote. I ask that you allow a more informed former “no” voter to try to convince you to vote “yes” on May 24.

After the last failed bond vote, I ran for school board to become more informed and involved. Upon being elected, I was skeptical about some matters, including some versions of any potential bond referendum. I kept an open mind. Since last July, I have spent countless hours attending board committee meetings, community facility task force meetings, community input meetings and faculty meetings, where the goal was to plan for all of our current and new students who are or will be attending our schools.

Exceeding capacities

I was afforded the time to have in-depth meetings with our business manager, Mark Lemer. He showed me in a methodical,

line-by-line process how we would have the funds to run new schools after they are built. I have had the opportunity to walk through every school building during the school day. What I saw was overcrowded lunchrooms, hallways, classrooms, parking lots, gyms and theaters.

I can tell you with certainty that with our 13 schools, we are either currently or will soon be exceeding the maximum capacity of all 13 buildings except for two elementary schools: LE Berger and Harwood, the district’s two farthest-north elementary schools.

Most of our new growth is south of Interstate 94, yet we have only four buildings out of the 13 serving the high growth area: Osgood Kindergarten Center, Horace and Aurora elementary schools, and the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center.

Aurora Elementary reached maximum capacity in the third year it was open and continues to operate that way today, which forces us to send some of their first-graders to the Osgood Kindergarten Center.

With all of this info and the time that I’ve devoted to the district, I have become absolutely convinced that we are in a crisis situation. We need new schools.

Convinced of need

I realize most taxpayers don’t have time to be as involved as I have been. I would not have made the motion for the bond referendum and voted “yes” at the board level for it unless I was convinced that it is needed. Hopefully our taxpayers will keep an open mind regarding facts and projections that are facing us and sacrifice a little more for our kids and our community’s future.

I grew up and went to school in West Fargo. I have lived here for 35 years. A lot of people, including those who didn’t have kids in the school district, paid taxes and approved bonds for me and my schools. Now it is time for all of us to do the same.

When I was in school, we begged for kids to attend our district. Now families with school-age kids (three different demographic projections are predicting our student numbers to increase by more than 1,800 students in five years), are moving here. They require the same things that I did 35 years ago.

No more quick fixes

I want to assure people that the board and administration do not take these decisions lightly. Our board and administration and those who have served and worked before us have exhausted most methods over the years to deal with these increases in students. This included adding on and upgrading five elementary schools (South, Eastwood, Westside, Horace, and LE Berger); adding on to the high school; building the Ninth Grade Center in order to alleviate overcrowding at the high school; revamping the old high school (Lodoen) to accommodate 260 middle school students for our S.T.E.M. program, which helped for a short time to alleviate middle school overcrowding issues; and creating two kindergarten centers, with the south side center serving as overflow room for Aurora Elementary first-grade students to try to alleviate the overcrowding at all of our elementary schools.

When you put all of this information together with the research and planning that have been done, people need to realize that it’s time for us to turn out on May 24 and vote “yes”!

Olson, his wife, Kimberly, and their two kids live, work and attend school in West Fargo.