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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 06 2011

Central Cass School District voters will try again Sept. 29

CASSELTON, N.D. – Central Cass School District voters will be asked for the second time this year to approve building a $4.8 million addition to the K-12 school.

The vote will be Sept. 29 at the school, Superintendent Mark Weston said.

In April, a similar measure was defeated, falling 27 votes short of the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass.

A key component of the proposal has been changed for this vote. Instead of creating a permanent 20-mill building fund, this vote only calls for approval of the addition project, with the bonds to be paid over 20 years, Weston said.

With that change, and a more comprehensive voter education plan, Weston said he hopes opponents can be won over.

“Our emphasis is on children. That’s what our mission is,” he said. “We believe strongly in it (the addition plan), and we hope the patrons will agree.”

If approved, the project would create six classrooms – four in the addition and two elsewhere in the school – an auditorium that can be used as a performance space or a gym, a third full-size gymnasium, and more music practice, locker room and storage spaces.

The owner of a $100,000 home would be asked to pay $90 more a year in property taxes.

A business would pay $100 more a year for every $100,000 in value. Farmland would be taxed an extra 71 cents per acre, Weston said.

Weston said with interest rates low, the time is right.

The vote would come about 5½ months after the last vote on the project failed.

School Board President Keith Gohdes said the need for more space for fine arts and physical fitness, alternative education and English Language Learner programs has not changed in the interim.

During the school’s fall musical, elementary gym was held in the hallways because of the lack of space, he said.

“We feel we are committed to providing an education for our students. And we do have space issues,” Gohdes said.

“You have to be accountable. … We haven’t squandered the taxpayers’ money,” he said. “We need to pursue this because the job of the school board is to facilitate the needs of the kids.”

Gohdes said the school board listened to the feedback it got after the last election, moving away from seeking a permanent building levy to seeking approval for just this project.

They are also working to get more information to voters this time, he said.

There are already two Facebook pages with discussions of the vote.

One is “Central Cass School building addition vote” and the other is “Vote ‘No’ on Central Cass School bond levy 2011 info.”

Weston said the district has changed since the last building improvement bond was approved in 1994.

Back then, 62.1 percent of the district’s taxable property was farmland, 20.9 percent was business and 17.1 percent was residential

Today, 50.6 percent is farmland, 15.1 percent is business and 34.4 percent is residential, Weston said.

“Everybody says it was the schools” that drew residents to the area and helped Casselton and Central Cass School grow in recent years,” Weston said. “People wanted a smaller, Class B-type school near the Fargo-Moorhead metro that had top-flight facilities and provided a solid education.”

“We’ve seen a shift, and we think that can continue that with what we are proposing,” Weston said.

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