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Grand Forks schools mull lower taxes

The Grand Forks Public School District could be looking at no increase in the property tax rate for the 2014-2015 school year, district staff told the finance committee Wednesday.

Business Manager Ed Gerhardt presented three financial scenarios that each anticipated a 9.2 percent increase in overall spending for a total general-fund budget of $91.1 million.

That includes an estimated $749,000 for new teachers and paraprofessionals.

In all three scenarios, the property tax rate would remain the same as it is now or will decrease.

Wednesday’s meeting was intended to be an informative meeting and the committee will meet again Monday to ask more questions and get more information, its members said.

“It’s just there for discussion at this point,” said Superintendent Larry Nybladh.

The School Board must set the mill levy by its Sept. 29 meeting ahead of the Oct. 10 final deadline.

No increase

In one scenario, the tax rate would remain at 89.78 mills, the same as it is now. With properties throughout the city appreciating in value and new properties annexed to the city, the school district expects it would still collect more taxes. With expected state and federal funding, that would bring total revenue to $92.2 million, a 5.6 percent increase.

Under a second scenario, the tax rate would be lowered to 83.76 mills. With other funding included, that would bring total revenue to $91.1 million, a 4.4 percent increase.

Under a third scenario, the tax rate would be lowered to 73.78 mills. With other funding included, that would bring total revenue to $89.3 million, a 2.3 percent increase. Since district plans to spend more than this, the difference is expected to come out of excess funds from this year.

The projections are very general, said Gerhardt. The scenarios didn’t include expected savings from consolidating two Grand Forks Air Force Base schools earlier this year, costs tied to the construction of the new elementary on the city’s south side nor the $1.1 million the district trimmed last year, he said.

More teachers

Still, the totals did cover funding for new teachers and paraprofessionals. As enrollment numbers continue to grow, particularly among English Language Learners and special education students, Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson said the district is in great need of more teachers.

He requested up to 9.5 full-time teachers, including three ELL teachers. The district currently has about 400 ELL students at a student to teacher ratio of 79 to one, he said.

By comparison, the district in West Fargo has a ratio of 20 to one while in Fargo, it’s 31 to one, he said.

“I give credit to the teachers (here) for rolling up their sleeves, but they’ve run out of sleeves,” he said.

The highest anticipated cost related to the 9.2 percent spending increase is related to equipment and furniture, which committee member Doug Carpenter requested more information on for the next meeting.

But the district also had about $1.1 million excess revenue. This was partly due to unexpected special education funding, said Gerhardt.

At the regular School Board meeting on Monday, when reviewing the monthly financial statement, he said the district is in “a good position for the 2014 to 2015 year.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit www.grandforksherald.com. 

(701) 787-6736
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