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Natasha Neihart, Fargo, Published May 28 2013

Letter: Place controls on school debt

Considering the closing or repurposing of any of the core schools is a sign that the Fargo School Board has accumulated too much debt. The 2012-13 school budget suggests that debts may be as high as $84 million!

Small neighborhood schools have shown to be better for children’s attendance and achievement scores. They encourage better physical fitness when the schools are within walking and/or biking distances. Core homes and neighborhoods can maintain their vitality and retain their property values when their local schools remain open.

Our existing core schools built with rot- and insect-resistant old-growth woods and high-quality workmanship should be sustainable for centuries. Suburban schools like Centennial, built in 1989, have life expectancies of only 25 to 50 years; when they exceed 25 years, they begin to show significant structural decay.

When interest payments interfere with the school district’s ability to provide for routine maintenance, then the problem does not lie with the core schools. The problem lies with the school board’s willingness to make short-term cash flow gains at the expense of the inner city’s health and to borrow more money at taxpayers’ expense in order to satisfy their appetite for new, expensive schools.

There are many creative solutions to student capacity issues: paired schools, flexible school hours, magnet school programs, etc. If new schools are necessary, building smaller neighborhood schools in the high-growth areas of Fargo are easier on budgets when compared to building megawarehouse schools that compromise learning.

Demographics of our students will continue to rise and fall in the future. Small core schools are part of the solution, not the problem.

Neihart lives in Fargo’s Hawthorne neighborhood.