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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 25 2013

West Fargo School Board School approves hiring equivalent of 50 full-time teachers

WEST FARGO – The West Fargo School Board on Monday voted 7-0 to approve hiring the equivalent of nearly 50 full-time teachers.

The openings, considered the first phase of hiring to staff for this fall, have an estimated cost that tops $2.6 million. The hires are being made to handle continuing growth in enrollment and to open Liberty Middle School and the first phase of Sheyenne High School.

More staffing requests are expected after the Legislature wraps up and state funding is clear, Human Resources Director Robin Hill and Business Manager Mark Lemer said.

“None of these requests are frivolous or fluff,” Superintendent David Flowers said.

A school board memo said the positions sought are based on conservative estimates for growth.

Among the full-time equivalent positions approved are 12 elementary school teachers ($612,000); 1.5 elementary reading teachers ($76,500); 1 elementary teacher for gifted and talented students, ($51,000); 1 physical education/health elementary teacher ($51,000), 1.5 physical education/music/art teachers ($76,500); 6.23 teachers at Liberty and Cheney middle schools ($317,730); 7.33 teachers at Sheyenne and West Fargo high schools ($376,470); 2.5 instructional coaches for grades 6-12 ($127,500); 6.5 teachers for English Language Learners ($331,500); 10.35 special education teachers ($610,650).

The costs include retirement and Social Security expenses, but not health and life insurance benefits, a board memo said.

The budget implications of rapid growth have board member Dave Olson worried.

“Based on what we’re faced with, is there a point where we slow our growth down?” Olson asked, questioning whether continued construction of schools is encouraging developers to build in West Fargo School District.

Lemer said that’s not a good solution, as homes are going up even without schools being built.

“I don’t think the school district has been the one driving the growth,” added board President Kay Kiefer.

“What’s the difference?” Karen Nitzkorski asked. The problem hasn’t been so much that the district is growing, but that the growth “has been exponential.”

Lemer said 360 more students are expected in the district this coming fall.

In fall 2012, the district had 570 more students show up than the previous year, Flowers said. That’s more students than in many of the state’s school districts, he said.

The school board is mulling whether the district must build yet another elementary school. It recently approved bids to build an elementary at 3700 54th St. S., Fargo.

In other business, the board:

•Approved a bid of $298,800 by Rick Electric, of Moorhead, to install classroom amplification systems in kindergarten and elementary classrooms not yet equipped.

•Approved the recommendations of the Harwood Elementary School enrollment committee.

The group recommends that enrollment at the school be monitored and that the school be prepared to maintain the current staff and schedule if classes don’t get too large. The group said the district should also be ready to create a classroom that combines grades to ease pressure from any particularly large class, if necessary.

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