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District demographer outlines enrollment projections at Grand Forks School Board meeting

Board discusses possible pay raises for members.

Grand Forks can expect to see a slight increase in enrollment at elementary and high school levels and a decrease in middle school students over the next five years, the school district’s demographer told the Grand Forks School Board at its Tuesday, May 26, meeting.

What impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on schools is difficult to predict right now, said Robert Schwarz, of RSP and Associates, based in Kansas City, Mo.

The forecast of the city’s population, development and school enrollment “all ties back to jobs,” Schwarz said. “What is the job outlook in the Grand Forks region?”

The demographer projects that school enrollment will remain stable, growing from 7,456 this year to 7,657 in the 2024-25 school year, he said.

In the next five years, elementary school enrollment will remain about the same, middle schools will see a decrease of about 90 students, and high school enrollment should climb by nearly 300, he said.

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Graduation plans

Grand Forks Central and Red River high schools will hold similar “drive-through” graduations, with each family allowed no more than two vehicles, said Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

Students will wear the traditional cap and gown, exit their vehicle, approach the stage and present their name, on paper, for verbal announcement, and walk across the stage. They’ll each receive a “shell” diploma, and the actual diploma will be sent to the home, Gillach said.

Students will be given a specific time to arrive, to allow for approximate but not strictly alphabetical order. Vehicles will be arriving “in waves,” she explained.

Photos may be taken by family members in an area beyond the stage. Officials are asking families to designate “someone other than the graduate or picture-taker” as the driver to keep the vehicle proceeding, Gillach said.

Grand Forks Central’s graduation is set for noon and Red River’s is planned for 4 p.m., both on Sunday, May 31.

Community High School, which is expecting to graduate about 20 to 25 students, is planning a “parking lot” ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 28, at its building on Stanford Road. Graduates will be seated, spaced apart as per social distance guidelines, near a stage.

Family members will observe from their parked vehicle.

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Federal funding for COVID relief

Under the federal CARES Act intended to spur recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district expects to receive $2.1 million, which will largely be used to reimburse the district for technology expenses related to distance learning, officials told School Board members.

The goal is to provide devices for every student in the school district, including iPads for students in grades 1 and 2 and Chromebooks for students in grades 3 through 12, as well as updating laptop computers for teachers, said Eric Ripley, director of career and technical education.

Scott Berge, the district’s business manager, recommended the sale of bonds, now that “interest rates have reversed course and are very favorable,” he said.

Berge brought this request to the board a few months ago but, after the board’s approval and before the potential date of sale, interest rates jumped, so that action was not taken.

With the sale of these two types of bonds, he said, the district will capture about $420,000 in interest cost savings over the next 13 to 14 years, he said.

Berge’s recommendation was passed unanimously by the board.

The School Board also approved the continuation of a lease agreement for the space occupied by Community High School at the same rate as last year, $160,673. The current lease expires June 30. The renewed lease remains in effect for several years.

Board compensation

In other action, the board voted to approve the first reading of a policy that would increase a board member’s annual compensation from $4,000 to $5,000; the board president's annual compensation would increase from $4,000 to $6,000. The policy will be voted on again, after a second reading, at the board’s next meeting June 8.

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Voting in favor were Doug Carpenter, Amber Flynn, Jeff Manley, Cynthia Shabb and Matt Spivey; voting against were Eric Lunn, Shannon Mikula and Bill Palmiscno. Jacqueline Hoffarth was absent.

Grand Forks School Board members receive less compensation than their counterparts serving on boards in other major North Dakota cities.

“We are markedly undercompensated,” said Lunn, a longtime board member. “If we keep going like this, we’ll end up with old, semi-retired men like me, and we don’t want that.”

Lunn advocated for raising compensation but, because of COVID-19 and current economic conditions, doing so sometime in the future.

“There’s never a good time to do this,” Carpenter said. The board “took a step back a few years ago and cut compensation, which we never should have done.”

Others noted that raising compensation could attract members who reflect diversity and a broader range of ages.

If approved on second reading, the policy would take effect with the incoming members of the board who officially begin their terms in July.

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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