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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 26 2012

Fargo School Board backs new Bluestem agreement

FARGO – The Fargo School Board voted 6-3 Tuesday to back a new framework agreement between it and the board of directors for the Bluestem Center for the Arts.

The board also approved several budgets for 2012-13, including a $123 million general fund budget, but not without voting down a $1.5 million cardio exercise addition for Discovery Middle School.

The Bluestem Center pact is meant to put the school district and the Bluestem board back on track to creating a new governing body for the south Moorhead arts facility – home for Fargo schools’ Trollwood Performing Arts School.

The agreement calls for the school district to continue to pay all the costs of the center until the new governance structure can be put into place.

Beyond running the facility, the school district will contact the region’s arts stakeholders to create a new governing group.

Meanwhile, the Bluestem board is to focus on returning to fundraising for the center and TPAS.

While some school board members complained the memorandum leaves many questions unanswered, board member Dinah Goldenberg said moving too slowly also has a price: reducing choices for both sides.

“This is only the starting point to the end result,” Goldenberg said.

To “get away from paying the bills” at Bluestem Center, “we should endorse this and move forward,” she said.

The school district has operated and paid the bills for the Bluestem Center since December, when the Bluestem fundraisers could no longer make the biannual bond payment for the facility.

The district paid the December and June bond payments and is preparing to pay off the remaining $1.84 million in bonds after being told by Bluestem board members that they don’t believe they can fund-raise to pay off construction debt.

Paying off the bonded debt will give the district full lease rights to the Bluestem Center on Aug. 1, unless there is a new operating agreement in place.

The Bluestem board has also said they won’t be able to fund-raise to pay a

$2.7 million loan also used to help finish construction of the $15 million arts facility. The memorandum includes a provision that credits fundraising for Trollwood against that debt.

Board members John Strand, Kris Wallman and Paul Meyers voted against the memorandum.

The pact awaits approval by the Bluestem board.

The school board also approved the preliminary budgets for the building, special assessments, student activities, food service and general funds.

The general fund is projected to have revenues of $123,154,484, with expenditures of $123,312,084.

The $157,600 difference will pay for a bullying curriculum and a school bus-rider tracking system. Administrators said a pending sale of a district property could pay for those expenses.

Three capital projects: the $1.84 million bond payoff, a $2.25 million gym addition to Centennial Elementary, and the $1.5 million Discovery cardio area addition, found considerable debate, however.

The projects would be paid from the district’s general fund balance, a cushion used to avoid the need for short-term borrowing, and to pay for pressing needs.

But the fund balance would have dipped from about $27 million to just over $21 million with the spending.

Several board members, particularly Strand and Wallman, said they were uneasy with the idea of depleting that cushion, leading to separate votes on the capital projects. The middle school addition was dropped on a 4-5 vote.

In other business, the board agreed to make a counteroffer to a potential buyer for the former home of its River’s Edge alternative education facility at 3320 33rd St. S.

The board said it is willing to accept $640,000 for its one-third share in the building, per a 2009 valuation of the property.

The counteroffer will be transmitted back to Realtor Marv Schlick and to Master Construction, which owns the other two-thirds of the facility, which also used to house Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.

The potential buyer was not named.


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