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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 14 2013

West Fargo School Board approves $735K for new jobs

WEST FARGO – The school board here voted 7-0 to approve nearly $735,000 in salaries for new positions Monday, including principals for Liberty Middle School and the next elementary school, and a new “director of strategic initiatives” post.

The board also unanimously approved seeking bids for the new fine arts and athletic facilities additions for the second phase of creating Sheyenne High School, the district’s second high school.

Denise Jonas, an assistant principal at Cheney Middle School, was chosen to be Liberty’s principal last year. With salary and benefits, her post is expected to cost about $130,360 a year.

The principal for the district’s next elementary, which officials want to break ground on this spring, will be paid $118,630 a year, including benefits. That person will also be in charge of the fifth-graders south of Interstate 94 that the district plans to house in Liberty this fall.

The district expects to have about 320 more elementary-age students this fall, many of them living south of Interstate 94.

Plans are to open the next elementary by fall 2014. It is planned to be built a half-mile west of Sheyenne High School and north of 40th Avenue South.

An activities director will also be hired for Sheyenne High School at a cost of $103,680, with benefits.

Superintendent David Flowers said it’s hoped that person can be hired early enough to help choose coaches for Sheyenne who will create that school’s first varsity programs.

The director of strategic initiatives is a post sought by Flowers to guide STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, career and technical education, 21st-century skills and other programs. That position would have a salary of $123,840, with benefits included.

Flowers said he doesn’t want the district’s STEM program to fade away once its staff is split between Cheney and Liberty middle schools.

“I think we are at a critical juncture,” Flowers said.

Among other positions unanimously approved are a counselor and library media specialist for Liberty ($59,000 each, with benefits); and medical careers and CISCO teachers at Sheyenne High School ($51,000 each, with benefits).

The district budgeted $10.6 million for the fine arts and gymnasium and locker room expansions at Sheyenne. However, Julie Rokke of the architectural firm YHR Partners warned that pressure from construction in the state’s western Oil Patch has driven up the cost of materials and skilled labor even in the Fargo area.

Because of that, two parts of the project, a $400,000 orchestra room and a

$1 million fourth gym, are now considered alternates when bids are sought for the project.

Acceptance of either of those alternate bid projects will depend on whether the bidding climate is favorable or if the school board wants to stretch its budget, Business Manager Mark Lemer said.

Lemer said about $2 million has been saved due to favorable bids on the district’s other projects, including the Phase I academic wing for Sheyenne, construction of Liberty and construction of Freedom Elementary School.

The board could elect to spend some of that money on Sheyenne’s Phase II, he said.

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