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OUR OPINION: Grand Forks district should go to school on Fargo tax vote

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OUR OPINION: Grand Forks district should go to school on Fargo tax vote
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

It’s true that Fargo and Grand Forks have their differences, and those differences extend to citywide votes. Fargo voters passed a referendum to build a new library, while Grand Forks voters rejected one, to take just one example.

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But it’s also true that the communities have their similarities. In fact, they’re enough “alike” culturally and economically that each city studies and learns from the other.

Make that culturally, economically …

And educationally. The Fargo and Grand Forks school districts have important traits in common.

That’s why Grand Forks school officials should take careful note of what happened in Fargo this week. For on Tuesday, Fargo voters trounced a crucial property-tax request from their school district — and it’s essentially the same request that the Grand Forks School District also may feel compelled to make at some point over the coming year.

“The Fargo School District’s request to levy up to 150 general fund mills was easily defeated in Tuesday’s special election,” The Forum reported Wednesday.

“The measure lost 57.3 percent to 42.7 percent. It needed a simple majority to pass. … The district needs voter approval of the levy by the end of 2015, or the dollars from its current levy (of 139 mills) will be frozen, and the district will lose out on revenue from increases in property values.”

In a nutshell, that’s also the challenge the Grand Forks School District faces, though the numbers are different in this community.

So, should Fargo voters’ rejection carry weight in Grand Forks? Grand Forks Superintendent Larry Nybladh seems to think it should not. When asked by The Forum whether the Fargo vote will affect Grand Forks’ decision, Nybladh responded this way:

“Every school district’s needs and circumstances are so very different,” he said. “It really would have very negligible effect on the thinking of our school board.”

But we’d strongly urge Nybladh and the board to think again. For while what happens in Fargo doesn’t mean everything, it often means something, especially in key areas.

And in years past, one of those areas has been the public’s level of support for the school system.

In Fargo, that support traditionally has been quite high. Voters showed this by approving bond issues and construction projects almost as a matter of routine.

But now, that support seems to have eroded. In its place, large numbers of voters are showing a level of skepticism about school finances that seems almost unprecedented.

It’s hard to remember a time when Fargo voters said “no” to an urgent request from their public schools.

Has a similar skepticism arisen in Grand Forks? And if it has, then how should the Grand Forks School District approach the prospect of its own big property tax vote?

Watch this space, this page and — residents can hope — Grand Forks School Board meetings for potential answers to those questions.

Grand Forks officials need not obsess on what happened in Fargo. But neither should they ignore it, because at least some of the attitudes and aggravations that have shown up there seem likely to be in play here, too.

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Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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