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C.T. Marhula: Base deserves fuller accounting of schools

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GRAND FORKS — Really, I don’t want to continue my commentary on school issues. But the Grand Forks Public Schools board and administration keep insisting.

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First, there are two 1 percent groups in our nation. One owns about 36 percent of the U.S. economy; the other keeps our nation free and safe.

The former 1 percent can take care of themselves. The latter 1 percent need and deserve our support.

The Grand Forks school district has proposed closing one of the schools at Grand Forks Air Force Base. I agree. But after reviewing the presentation, I believe the district has been less than transparent with the base community.

  •  First, the student numbers. From 1995 to 2013, the on-base enrollment declined from 1,574 to 347, or 1,227 students. Yes, they should close a school.

But during the same time period, in-town enrollment in Grand Forks schools declined from 9,998 to 7,096, or 2,902 students. Century Elementary School was added during this decline (1987), Phoenix Elementary replaced a school lost to the flood, and Lake Agassiz Elementary was expanded in 2005.

And now, the school district is building another new school, despite a projected over-capacity of 2,500 students in 2017-18 without the new school.

  •  Now, to the money. The official June 30, 2013, audit of the Grand Forks Air Force Base schools shows Instruction Expenses for 2012 of $4.4 million, $2.2 million for 2013, and no state aid. An inquiring mind might question how these expenses decreased by 50 percent.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction website also shows zero state aid for the Grand Forks Air Force Base students. Did this money go into a black hole? And there is no accounting for the revenue produced by high school students who reside on base?

In a Herald story on Aug. 18, Grand Forks Superintendent Larry Nybladh said that if the Legislature had passed a certain bill, the district would have received about $3 million in revenue to cover an estimated 300 new students.

Am I the only one who’s amazed that it appears the 350 existing base students bring zero state aid to the table, while 300 new students cost $3 million in lost state aid?

  •  In their presentation to the base community, the Grand Forks school district claims a cost saving to the Grand Forks Air Force Base of about $588,000. This includes $60,000 on buildings & grounds, $55,596 for a head custodian, $88,000 for one less reading teacher and $122,000-plus for a 44-week principal.

Sorry, but I do have to ask. Do we actually spend $60,000 on B&G for one building which does not include the custodians, electricity, garbage, snow removal, phone, water, sewer or gas?

Plus, Winship and Wilder elementary schools share a principal. But Twining and Eielson schools on the base don’t already?

Also, either we’re currently overfunding reading or we’re reducing a needed service by 50 percent under the proposal. How can the district eliminate one full-time reading position when there is no change in student numbers?

The 1 percenters and their families deserve answers.

I spent two years in a term position at the base and witnessed first-hand great leadership and great management. I also saw the stress on families raised by repeated deployments and separations.

These families deserve a full and true accounting of the financial resources they bring to the table.

Marhula is a former member of the Grand Forks School Board.

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