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Larry Nybladh: The facts about GF schools’ finances, enrollment

GRAND FORKS — In his recent letter, C.T. Marhula once again uses incorrect data in an attempt to criticize school district leadership (“Base deserves fuller accounting of schools,” Page A4, April 10).

The potential consolidation of Carl Ben Eielson Elementary and Nathan T. Twining Elementary and Middle School has been a subject of discussion for both the Grand Forks School Board and the Grand Forks Air Force Base School Board for many years. Our community deserves accurate information about what this consolidation would mean, which is why a public meeting was held April 3 for the Grand Forks Air Force Base community to discuss a potential school consolidation.

Presented below are clarifications to Marhula’s misinformation.

  •  First, on-base enrollment from 1995-2013 declined from 1,574 to 347 students. During that same time period, in-town enrollment declined from 8,324 to 6,749, for a difference of 1,575 students, not 2,902 as Marhula claimed.

In addition, Marhula’s claim about excess capacity in the district’s elementary schools is totally wrong. What he has failed to notice (or at least ask someone who knows) is that in the past, Grand Forks Public Schools had fewer specialized programs and larger class sizes, and the district frequently used relocatable classrooms.

Our elementary schools are at or near capacity now.

  •  In 1987, the southwest quadrant of Grand Forks was growing rapidly, which led to the construction of Century Elementary. Lake Agassiz was expanded in 2005 to house the Head Start program previously located at the Roosevelt Education Center.

Phoenix Elementary was built following the flood of 1997 and the subsequent closing of two schools (Lincoln and Belmont) — not one, as Marhula noted.

Regarding the new school, a 30-member Demographic Task Force, reflective of community stakeholders, provided this recommendation while discussing an optimal plan for district facilities and based their recommendation on increasing enrollment trends and scientific projections, not wild conjecture like Marhula.

  •  Marhula is confused about foundation aid data that he can’t find at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction website.

State Foundation Aid received does not delineate between funding for students in-town and students on-base. As the Grand Forks Air Force Base Public School District contracts with the Grand Forks Public School District to provide educational services for pupils that reside on the base, it has been the practice to include state Foundation Aid as state revenue for Grand Forks Public School District.

Further, it appears Marhula doesn’t know that 75 percent of Federal Impact Aid is subtracted from Foundation Aid. The decrease in instruction expenses in the 2012 and 2013 Grand Forks Air Force Base audits is reflective of the decrease in Impact Aid received from the federal government.

As presented at the public meeting on April 3, Impact Aid revenue has decreased by $3.9 million since 2009.

  •  In response to Marhula’s question of, “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?,” the answer is yes. The $60,000 estimate is derived from analysis by the district’s Business Manager and Building & Grounds Director, people who know the budget and operation.

These costs include work orders and building maintenance supplies such as floor wax, light bulbs, mechanical and electrical system repairs and so on.

  •  Winship and Wilder elementary schools began sharing a principal in 2008 as part of a rightsizing process. As addressed in the public meeting on April 3, if the two base schools do not consolidate, there will be only one principal beginning next school year as a cost-saving measure.

While Marhula certainly has a right to his opinion, I find it very unfair to Herald readers and the Grand Forks community that he continues his rant against the school district’s school board and administration with inaccurate facts and conjecture.

Marhula’s suggestion that the district somehow is pulling the wool over the eyes of our air base’s military families is most offensive. The 64-year history between Grand Forks Public Schools and the Grand Forks Air Force Base Public Schools is a testament to the support our community has for military personnel and their families.

This will not change whether there is one school or two operating next year at the air base. High quality education will continue.

Nybladh is superintendent of the Grand Forks Public Schools.