Grand Forks residents will be asked again to approve the 10-mill increase for the school district’s building fund in September if the School Board approves the district finance committee’s recommendation at its Monday, July 12 meeting.
Members of the finance committee, who met Tuesday, July 6, discussed at some length whether to place the question before voters this fall. Although Bill Palmiscno said “that’s rushing it” and suggested waiting a year, other members said it is critical to the district’s financial stability to go ahead with another vote as early as it's allowed, which, under law, is no sooner than three months after the measure failed. Other board members who serve on the committee are Doug Carpenter, Shannon Mikula and Amber Flynn.
Ultimately, the motion was passed unanimously.
In the June 22 referendum election, about 55% of voters approved the increase, falling short of the 60% needed for passage.
Several committee members indicated that the narrow loss margin signals voter support for the district in its struggle to maintain aging infrastructure and that it makes sense to capitalize on the apparent favorable momentum.
Carpenter, who heads the committee, said that if the measure is approved in the Sept. 28 election, it would allow tax payments to begin in January. The additional roughly $2.5 million that would accrue to the district could be beneficial to address known and unexpected HVAC and other facility improvement needs, he said.
If approved, the monthly tax impact of the mill levy increase would be $3.75 per $100,000 of assessed property value, district officials have said.
In the wake of the defeat of the referendum, a two-part ballot that also included a request of $86 million for a new northside middle and consolidate elementary school and other facility projects, Mikula said there is a sentiment among teachers that the community does not want to support the district, “which is not true.”
“It really came down to the scope of the referendum,” she said. “The mills have to go forward in the fall or you’re going to have issues with morale in the fall.”
Those who were opposed to the referendum, especially the consolidation proposal, “are not going to show up,” Mikula said.
The committee is expected to present its recommendation to the School Board at its next regular meeting Monday and to direct the district administration to prepare a resolution for the board to act on at its July 26 meeting. The resolution must be approved in July in order for the Sept. 28 election to occur.
At Tuesday’s meeting, finance committee members also discussed how it will approach the process for making necessary budget reductions for the 2022-23 fiscal year and communicate the rationale for that strategy to the public.
In a budget-reduction exercise that was carried out this past school year, about $4 million was trimmed from the 2021-22 fiscal year -- about $400,000 short of the finance committee’s goal. The committee had also set a goal of trimming $6.4 million from the ‘22-23 school year in order to balance the budget.
Committee members Tuesday also approved contracts for the district’s business manager, Scott Berge; the district's associate superintendent of secondary education, Catherine Gillach; and the district's chief academic officer, Amy Bartsch. Most received a 2.2% annual salary increase, which is in line with salary adjustments for the district’s principals and directors. Gillach received a 4% increase for the first year of a two-year contract, because she “started low” in her position in terms of salary, Superintendent Terry Brenner told the committee, noting that the higher increase would place her salary above those of principals she supervises.
Discussion regarding Brenner’s salary, which has remained flat, will be taken up at a later finance committee meeting.