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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 09 2012

West Fargo votes to add more than 24 teachers to staff

WEST FARGO – The school district will add the equivalent of more than 24 full-time teachers to the district’s payroll, many of them staff for Freedom Elementary opening this fall south of Interstate 94.

The hires, approved by the school board on a 6-0 vote Monday, will cost $1.24 million in salary and retirement benefits a year. Costs for health, dental and life insurance benefits were not in material shared with the board.

Board members passed the measure, even as it appears that increases in the district’s property tax revenues will fall short of 5 percent – a mark thought conservative, given the history of growth for West Fargo School District.

Property tax and state per-pupil aid are the district’s largest revenue sources.

The hires are essential to open Freedom and handle enrollment growth for kindergarten through fifth grade, said Robin Hill, director of human resources.

Other hiring phases to be brought to the board in coming weeks will include secondary teachers, classified staff and administrators, Hill said.

The district will hire the full-time equivalent of:

Hill said 22 classroom positions will be needed at Freedom in grades 1-5. Other elementary schools with more classrooms will be Harwood, 1.63; L.E. Berger, 3; and Osgood Kindergarten Center, 2.

Fewer classrooms are expected at Aurora, 1; Westside, 2; and South, 3.

Construction is expected to start soon on Liberty Middle School and the academic wing of Sheyenne High School, which will be joined to what is now Sheyenne 9th Grade Center.

Business Manager Mark Lemer said staff took into account personnel and operating costs when budgeting for the schools approved in last year’s $82.5 million bond issue.

Lemer said he and other planners felt safe using a 5 percent estimate for property tax growth, “but we’re not going to make that this year.”

Early estimates for increases in city of West Fargo property tax revenues are appreciably lower, about 3.28 percent. Estimates on property tax growth from the city of Fargo may be available this week, Lemer said.

The district also receives property tax income from Harwood, Horace, Reile’s Acres and some rural townships, Lemer said.

In 2009-10, school district property taxes grew 4.84 percent, Lemer said. In 2010-11, it was 4.24 percent, and in 2011-12, it was 4.94 percent.

From 2001 to 2008, property tax growth was 10 percent or more per year, something unlikely to be seen again, Lemer said.

“We felt, that we had been reasonably conservative,” Lemer said. “We didn’t anticipate that 5 percent would be a significant hurdle.”

Still, Lemer said the budget should be OK.

“We’re not pushing the panic button yet,” he said.

“What we’re trying to do is prioritize the list of requests we have for staffing, keeping in mind the overall budget,” Lemer said. “It’s going to require making some tough decisions that aren’t going to make everyone happy.”

Next year should also see significant additions to the district’s employment as Liberty Middle School is planned to open next fall, and the academic wing for Sheyenne High School should be complete, with 10th-graders joining 9th-graders at the school.

Lemer said that there is little wiggle room for the board to increase property taxes.

The district already levies the state maximum of 110 mills for the general fund, he said. Other allowable levies would not bring in significant amounts of money, he said.

Board President Ben Koppelman said the board will make any adjustments needed.

“At this point, I’m not worried,” he said. “We’re going to make the necessary changes.”


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


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