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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 22 2011

Know what’s at stake in West Fargo bond vote

WEST FARGO – On Tuesday, the West Fargo School District will hold its third bond referendum in three years.

This time, voters are being asked to approve an $82.5 million bond package to build schools and extra classroom space at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The money would be used to buy bricks and mortar for a school system that district officials say is at or near capacity in most of its schools.

The following projects are being proposed:

Other important questions for the vote:

How many votes does it need to pass?

It needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

What happened in previous bond votes?

Two previous bond votes failed. A March 2010 vote sought $40 million in school construction, and a June 2009 vote sought $65 million in projects.

When can I vote?

The polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m. Machine-scanned ballots will be used.

If the measure is approved, how would it affect residential property taxes?

The West Fargo School District now levies 170.64 mills in property taxes. The property tax on a $100,000 home is $767.88, Business Manager Mark Lemer said.

The bond issue would add 27.5 mills to the property tax levy, Lemer said. That would add $123.75 per year to the tax bill of a $100,000 home for 20 years, he said.

Owners of a $150,000 home would pay an additional $185.63 in taxes, and the owners of a $200,000 home would pay another $247.50 in taxes per year.

Will there be enough money to staff and operate the added and expended schools?

Money from the district’s general fund and special reserve fund will be used to cover the new staff and operational costs.

Projections of the district’s costs and revenues over the next five years show it will be possible to run the schools, but budgets will be tight, district officials said.

What is the district’s plan if the ballot measure fails?

District officials say failure to add space at every level will force students and staff to endure difficult conditions and affect learning.

Measures to address overcrowding include increasing class sizes and assigning students to schools where there is space regardless of school boundaries; renting space in West Fargo and renovating it for school use; purchasing portable classrooms; renting space from the Fargo School District; and operating schools in shifts.

What is the actual wording on the ballot?

The district’s attorney wrote the following ballot language: “ … to expand, renovate, remodel and equip the 9th grade center into a high school; to construct and equip a new middle school and new elementary schools; to construct and equip additions to school buildings; to remodel, renovate, improve and equip school buildings; to purchase land and acquire property for school purposes; to make site improvements to school property; and to construct, remodel, improve and equip co-curricular and athletic facilities.”

What is the timeline for each project?

If the referendum is approved, one new elementary school would be opened by the start of the 2012-13 school year. A new middle school would be built by 2013-14. Expanding Sheyenne into a high school would be completed by 2014-15.

Bonds for the second elementary would be sold and the building built when enrollment increases enough to require it.

Would both high schools have their own sports teams?

Eventually, yes, district officials say. That will depend on participation numbers and coach input.

Some sports may have teams right away, and others may have to be co-op arrangements for others, as has been done with other West Fargo sports in the past.

Does the district have any previous bond issues retiring soon?

The soonest the district will retire a general obligation bond issue is 2017. That will be the bonding to build Cheney Middle School and the elementary school remodeling projects. This year, those projects accounted for 24.32 mills on district residents’ property tax bills.

The next bonded debt to be paid off will be that issued for Aurora Elementary and the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center. That will occur on May 1, 2020. This year, those projects accounted for 22.59 mills on district residents’ property tax bills.

Must you own property in the school district to vote?

No. You only have to be a resident of the district to vote. It should be noted that school district boundary lines don’t always follow the city’s boundary lines. The West Fargo School District includes the cities of Harwood, Horace, Reiles Acres, West Fargo and parts of Fargo. To view a map of the district, go to www.west-fargo.k12.nd.us/district/maps.

Compiled by Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt using West Fargo School District materials. He can be reached at hschmidt@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5583