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Larry Gauper, Fargo, Published March 08 2014

Letter: Put our schools on a diet

Fargo taxpayers were not allowed to vote on the $45 million Davies High School, and we didn’t get to vote on financial participation in the $15 million-plus Bluestem Regional Arts Center in Minnesota. But, finally, taxpayers do get to vote on giving the same board that made those two huge and questionable expenditures continuing “flexibility” to do more of the same, if the “spirit” and/or special interest groups so move them.

On Tuesday, I’m voting “no” to send a message that enough is enough. Short of discontinuing all property taxes, as a failed 2012 initiated measure called for, Fargo taxpayers can hold this “if-it-feels-good-let’s-do-it-board” to the 70 mills the 2013 Legislature mandated for school districts. The only way a school board can go above that number is to secure approval from the taxpayers every 10 years.

What is the school board asking for? Authority to tax us 80 mills beyond the state mandated cap, up to 150 mills. With that kind of money, the board will continue to have their “flexibility” to do more questionable spending without voter approval. This body does not deserve that kind of financial “leeway,” as a Forum article called it.

So eager is the current board to achieve a “yes” vote, they’re needlessly spending more than $19,000 on a special election. Why? Board members say that will enable the media and voters to focus on this particular issue, otherwise their tax measure will “get lost” with other issues in the June primary election.

But that’s only part of their reason for being so free with Fargo taxpayer money. Jim Johnson, immediate past president of the board and current member, told me: “By having a special election prior to the June election, we have given ourselves the option if the measure fails of placing a similar question on the June ballot.” In fact, they have until 2015 to keep going back and back to the voters to try to get their way.

In a self-serving strategic move, the board also switched the date for the special election from their originally scheduled March 25 date. After selecting that date, the board was shocked to learn that Fargo schools will not be in session at that time and their special interest constituency that they hope will ensure a “yes” vote may not be around. Only fed-up taxpayers will show up to vote and that’s the last thing the board wants to see. So, the election date was moved.

Supporters of Fargo’s mill levy authority above the state-mandated level will tell you that “Fargo has always strongly supported education.” Of course, we have, but why does our community have to spend $10,989 per pupil on education while Bismarck, with even more students than the Fargo district, spends only $8,838? These numbers come from the latest per-pupil cost report from the Fargo School District business manager. The same report shows the West Fargo School District spends even less than the capital city: $8,454 per pupil, over $2,500 more per pupil than the Fargo district.

It’s time for the school board to go on a financial diet. Fargo voters can force the board to be more responsible with taxpayer money by voting “no.”