Wendy Reuer, Published May 16 2013
Task force gets closer to making recommendationsFARGO – The Fargo School District’s Community Long Range Facilities Planning Task Force was getting closer to narrowing down possible recommendations to be included in a plan at its fourth meeting Thursday night.
The task force also got answers to academic and financial questions that members have been asking for since the group’s first meeting.
The long-range facilities plan must address a growing district with overcrowding of southern schools such as Kennedy Elementary as well as aging schools north of 13th Avenue South, which remain at or close to capacity although they are need of maintenance.
Thursday’s meeting was the second one led by Superintendent Jeff Schatz. Prior meetings were led by Kansas-based consultants RSP and Associates, which some task force members said were not very conducive to the open discussion needed.
Business Manager Broc Lietz said the district is still repaying about $87.5 million in debt that includes the construction costs of Davies High School and remodel of North High, Ben Franklin and Clara Barton schools.
Schatz said each year it costs about $50.3 million for operation of the 14 elementary schools, a figure that includes the cost of personnel, maintenance, utilities, supplies, professional services, media, technology, transportation, nutritional services and professional development costs.
“That will help guide our 10-year plan,” Schatz said.
Fargo School District currently levies about 26 mills for building costs alone, although it could increase that amount to 35 mills, Lietz said.
“So there is more ability to levy if we would need it, but we would have to go back to the taxpayers to do that,” Lietz said.
While the North Dakota Legislature will begin paying school districts $88.10 per pupil in 2013-14, nearly double what the state previously offered, Lietz said the districts are expected to lower the amount of mill levies property owners must pay. He said the task force will have to keep that in mind when planning.
Schatz also examined each building the district currently operates and estimated the cost of maintenance needed over the next 10 years. The district could be facing about $40.4 million in maintaining existing buildings. Included in that number are items such as new windows for some buildings, and playground and gym floor updates.
Schatz said the figure does not include estimates for a facility emergency, such as a blown heater or storm damage.
“This is not a static document; it’s dynamic, and it changes. Tomorrow a boiler could go out in a school,” Schatz said.
The task force then broke into small groups, each assigned one of six topics to discuss: academics; grade configuration and paired schools; neighborhoods and safety; long-range operational maintenance; new construction; and public relations. The small groups were then asked to create recommendations based on those topics. Each task force member then voted on the recommendations they preferred in each category. Recommendation suggestions that received the most votes were:
•Keep current schools open; new developments should be designed to support neighborhood schools.
•Seriously consider building at the Ed Clapp Park location near 32nd Avenue South.
•Stay open to school pairings and flexible in grade configurations.
•Work with the city and park district in communicating property tax impacts.
•Do not establish charter schools. Charter schools are public schools, but they don’t have to follow all the regulations that traditional schools do.
•Research magnet schools, which are public schools with specialized courses or curricula.
•Establish an annual maintenance budget of 3.1 to 4.1 percent of the district’s total budget.
Schatz said the task force is slowly bringing into focus the recommendations it will make to the school board.
The task force will meet again at 6 p.m. on June 6 and June 20 to potentially present a report to the school board in July.
A look at the projected cost of maintenance for district-owned buildings for the next 10 years:
Ben Franklin, $972,000
Carl Ben Eielson, $227,000
Clara Barton, $3.9 million
Discovery, $3.7 million
Hawthorne, $1.8 million
Horace Mann, $3.3 million
Lewis and Clark, $4.3 million
Madison, $3.4 million
McKinley, $3.1 million
North High, $2.2 million
Roosevelt, $3.2 million
South High School, $2.1 million
Washington, $1.2 million
District office, $235,000
Luther Hall, $11,500
Miscellaneous, $2.7 million
Grand total, $40.4 million
Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530