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Grand Forks School Board passes referendum resolution

Election is set for June 22.

Sanford Center.jpg
The Mark Sanford Education Center, headquarters of Grand Forks Public Schools. (Grand Forks Herald photo)

Grand Forks School Board members on Monday, March 22, passed a resolution to ask taxpayers to approve a bond referendum of $86 million and a 10-mill increase in the building fund.

A special election is planned for June 22.

The decision came via an 8-1 vote in a board meeting that went late into the evening Monday.

If approved by voters, general obligation school building bonds would be issued to provide funds to construct and equip a new K-8 school building. The board is proposing the consolidation of West, Winship and Wilder elementary schools and Valley Middle School into a new campus structure on the current Valley Middle School site – a project estimated to cost $70.5 million.

Funds also would be used to demolish some of the district’s school buildings as well as to renovate, remodel and improve other school buildings.

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In the referendum, the School Board also will ask voters to approve a 10-mill increase in the school district’s building fund levy. If approved, the number of mills for this levy would increase from 10 to 20 mills, the maximum permitted under the North Dakota Century Code.

For the owner of a home valued at $250,000, the total tax impact would be approximately $30 per month.

A half-dozen or so concerned citizens addressed board members about the referendum. Some were supportive but voiced concerns about children crossing Washington Street to attend a new K-8 consolidated school at the Valley Middle School site.

Mark Rustad, who owns commercial properties, including apartment buildings, said the “massive rent increases” that will occur in the wake of a property tax increase would be detrimental to those who are already in a dire financial situation.

Rustad favored the 10-mill increase in the building fund levy, but “hold off on the $86 million bond,” he said.

The sole board member voting against the resolution, Shannon Mikula, indicated that the resolution lacked details that voters need and should have in order to build and maintain trust in the board.

“We all know the 10 mills are necessary now,” she said, but she has concerns that unanswered questions about what is to be done with the West, Winship and Wilder school buildings may prompt voters to reject the entire referendum. “I don’t want to lose those mills,” she said.

“There are a lot of skeptics out there, and a lot of people who are frugal and want to see us do right,” Mikula said.

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Those voting for the resolution were Doug Carpenter, Chris Douthit, Amber Flynn, Jacqueline Hoffarth, Eric Lunn, Jeff Manley, Bill Palmiscno and Cynthia Shabb.

A communications plan, conducted by the school district, is expected to roll out in the coming weeks. It will provide voters with specific tax implications for their own property, based on home valuations.

Melissa Buchhop, president of the Grand Forks Education Association, told the board, at its last meeting, March 8, that her organization is ready to support the communications initiative.

The School Board has been grappling with the specifics of their “ask” in the referendum since receiving a report by the school district’s Facilities Task Force in December.

At its meeting March 8, the School Board voted to close West Elementary School permanently, based on the projected renovation costs and low enrollment.

In other action, the board:

  • Voted to approve the audited financial statements, conducted by the Brady Martz accounting firm, for the year ended June 30, 2020; and

  • Voted to approve the Head Start grant application for the third year of a five-year continuation grant.

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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