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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 08 2014

Cass County says 'no,' for now, to voting sites in Fargo public schools

FARGO – The Fargo School Board voted 9-0 Tuesday to invite Cass County to use some of the district’s schools as polling sites for the June primary and November general elections.

But it doesn’t sound like the county will jump on the offer.

First, the county has locked in its sites for those two elections, as required by law, Auditor Mike Montplaisir said.

And another issue needs to be cleared up for the longer term, too, he said.

In November 2006, a district administrator sent Montplaisir and Fargo Auditor Steve Sprague a letter saying that city and county elections would no longer be allowed in schools due to security concerns.

The county then held hearings, and no one from Fargo Public Schools showed up to say the letter was a mistake, he said.

“All of a sudden they want to be voter friendly?” Montplaisir said. “I don’t know what has changed on their security” in the past few years.

In the meantime, Cass County found new polling sites, and Montplaisir said they attract more voters and handle more vehicles than the schools did.

More recently, Montplaisir said he was promised by district officials that there would be ample parking for the recent special election on authorizing the district’s mill levy.

At South High School, there was lots of parking, he said. But at the other two schools Montplaisir visited, parking was tight.

The school district did hire extra security for the election, Montplaisir said, but that is not an option for the county.

“I can’t afford to do that,” he said. “If they want to do this, they really need to sit down and think about it and sit down with the county and the city and discuss it.”

School Board member John Strand said he’d like to see the schools be polling places again.

“I believe that many of us sincerely believe … that there is a value to holding elections in public schools,” both for the public and for the students, Strand said.

Board members changed the wording of the motion to say the district would make schools available for voting where it was appropriate, rather than in all buildings.

But for now, it seems the county is set.

“What we have right now works for us,” Montplaisir said.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved the sale of $26,970,000 in bonds to build Ed Clapp Elementary School in Bluemont Lakes, and to add air conditioning and upgrade heating and ventilation at six schools.

    The action will net the district $26.6 million after sales costs. The bonds, which will be sold by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, carry an interest rate of 3.64 percent and can be paid off early in five years.

  • Approved hiring Twin Cities-based Gallagher Benefit Services to examine the district’s employee benefits to find savings and offer strategies for long-term sustainability.

    The one-year contract will cost $58,000, or about $3.45 per employee.

  • Approved a new contract for Superintendent Jeff Schatz.

    His pay will go from $175,000 to $180,000 for the coming school year. He will have an expense allowance of $5,000 and be eligible for up to $15,000 in merit pay.

    Schatz will also have 35 days of personal time off and can bank up to 20 days.

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