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Wendy Reuer, Published April 14 2014

West Fargo School Board agrees to add 75 new positions; $1.5 million budget deficit projected for 2014-15

WEST FARGO – With a new elementary school opening and a high school expanding this fall, the school district here will be hiring for more than 75 new positions, which includes 46 teaching jobs, for the 2014-15 school year.

On Monday, the board approved hiring teachers, principals, support and administrative staff to prepare for the opening of Independence Elementary this fall and for an expanded enrollment throughout the district.

However, the new hires could mean deficit spending for the district.

The roughly 46 full-time teaching positions will cost the district about $2.4 million. In addition to teachers, the West Fargo School Board approved hiring for what will equal about 30 administrative staff that includes school nurses, office personnel, bus drivers and custodians for a cost of about $784,000.

Based on its current budget, the additional positions could cause the district to operate at a projected deficit of $1.5 million in 2014-15. Without an increase in revenue, the deficit could grow to $4.2 million by the following year.

Business Manager Mark Lemer said that number could still be reduced because he is just beginning work on next year’s budget and costs could be offset by cutting spending in other areas.

Lemer said the rising costs could force the school board to eventually ask voters to approve a bond referendum, but at this time, the district has good enough financial standing to spend down its fund balance.

The hires will include nine teachers for grades one through five at Independence Elementary School, plus four elementary reading teachers, an art teacher, physical education teacher and music teacher. Four elementary reading teachers are also needed for remedial reading classes.

Nine high school teachers will be hired to serve West Fargo High School and Sheyenne High School, which will expand next year to include juniors along with the ninth- and 10th-graders who are now at Sheyenne.

Ten special education teachers and eight emerging needs teachers will be hired in the district. A music teacher will be added to Cheney Middle School, and a dean of students will be hired at Liberty Middle School.

A dean of students is a role similar to an assistant principal, but unlike an assistant principal, a dean of students does not evaluate teachers and does not have an equal requirement, making the salary of a dean of students position cost $30,000 to $40,000 less than an assistant principal, said Robin Hill, director of human resources.

The district will also hire an additional elementary principal next year after Jerry Barnum, who currently serves as principal to both Harwood and Horace schools, retires. Barnum has served as principal for both schools since he was hired in 1980. To offset the cost of an additional principal, the district will eliminate a district coordinator position, Superintendent David Flowers said.

Lemer said Monday that while West Fargo is one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state, the current state model of funding is not keeping pace.

“I’m hoping we can have some influence on our legislative process to get that changed,” Lemer said. “We have to grow by 6 percent in order for the state to recognize we grew at just over 4 percent.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530