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Wendy Reuer, Published September 26 2013

$30 million in Wahpeton school improvements in hands of voters on Oct. 1

WAHPETON, N.D. – The School District here is asking residents to allow it to spend up to $30 million for building improvements.

But residents will not see an increase in the school district portion of their tax bill, and may see a decrease.

Last year, the district levied 136 mills and the district will not exceed that amount in 2014, Superintendent Rick Jacobson said.

To stay under that number, the district will use an increase in state aid next year to cover its regular operating expenses. The district can then lower its general fund levy but increase its debt service levy, which is the amount of taxes used to pay total debt. In other words, the proportion of taxes used to pay off debt will increase, not the overall amount of taxes collected.

Voters will be asked on Oct. 1 to approve increasing the district’s debt service levy, which would allow it to move forward with the project.

The district would use the money to build a new elementary school and renovate its sole middle school and high school.

Zimmerman Elementary School, which houses kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and special education classes, would also undergo renovations.

Central Elementary School would close and a new school would be built near the middle school, Jacobson said.

“We can still show property tax relief to people even with funding the project,” Jacobson said.

Parent Julie VanEps is a part of the “Vote Yes for the Kids” group that aims to educate residents about the project. She said now is the time for the project.

She said the community seems to understand the need for this vote, including those voters who tend to reject a school referendum.

The time for the vote is now because the district will make final payments on its past bonds next year, Jacobson said. It means the district won’t need to increase the tax levy to pay back the proposed project‘s new debt.

Also, because the 2013 state Legislature increased state per-pupil aid so local districts could rely less on property taxes to fund their budgets, many homeowners could see a tax bill reduction of up to 12 percent even if the project moves forward.

An owner of a $100,000 home would pay $1,597.42 in school property taxes if the vote is approved, compared to $1,815.25 last year.

“Usually you don’t get an opportunity to fund a building project on a school and pay less than you had before,” Jacobson said.

The project is expected to help the district deal with growth. About 200 middle-school students are housed in portable classrooms that were installed as a temporary fix 20 years ago.

Jacobson said for four years, more than 100 kindergarteners have started their education in Wahpeton.

Central Elementary is the district’s oldest school at 86 years. It houses grades one through six. The district would close the school and build a new elementary school near the middle school.

It would also add security measures to the middle and high schools. Technology and media centers would be added and air conditioning would be installed in the older buildings.

Online component and summary: For more information: Visit www.wahpeton.k12.nd.us

Or www.facebook/voteyesforthe kids

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530