Grand Forks Public Schools moves ahead with bonding plan

School Board members agreed informally on Monday to a $15.1 million slate of improvements to district middle schools that would be financed with money from last fall's property tax referendum. The district is eyeing another referendum -- or two -- to pay for work on its middle schools, but isn't set to hammer out those details until after a March 28 public forum.

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

GRAND FORKS — As they weigh their finances and another potential building referendum, Grand Forks Public Schools leaders informally approved the projects for which they’d borrow money this year and next.

They didn’t vote, but School Board members broadly agreed on Monday to a $15.1 million slate of renovations at the district’s elementary schools that they’d fund with bonds the district would repay with a $1 million annual portion of the $2.5 million generated each year by a levy voters approved in the fall. Those bonds would pay for air quality and “life safety” improvements at the district’s elementary schools, such as new sprinkler and fire alarms, public address speakers, and modernized heating and cooling systems. Board members are set to formalize that list of projects with a vote on March 14.

That decision would assume, though, that the school district will address the long list of problems at its three middle school buildings with a referendum. Board members were less sure on the way they’d approach that, and are looking for input at a public forum next month.

Some members felt it was more politically palatable to ask voters to approve a $42.45 million project to replace Valley Middle School this summer and then, a few years later, push for a combined $40.24 million to extensively renovate Schroeder Middle School and South Middle School. Both would presumably require property tax increases to repay the bonds the district would sell to pay for that work.

“I’m concerned about bundling the three because I think you’re looking at an $80 million bond,” board member Bill Palmiscno said. “I think that would be a very tough row to hoe.”


Others noted the potential economies-of-scale savings that could go along with an all-at-once request.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be 24 mills however you dice it, right?” board member Shannon Mikula said. “And you’re working with inflation and you’re working with the cost to construct. … Is it the value in the message or is it the actual value being felt by the community for the work?”

District officials hope to gauge the public’s appetite for those projects at the forum, which is scheduled for March 28. After that, they’d put forth a more formal scope and date for a referendum.

The board on Monday also informally approved the language in materials that are set to be supplied at the forum. They were also broadly on board with scheduling the vote for June but took no formal action on it.

They’re set to approve the materials at their March 14 meeting and, assuming they go forward with it, the referendum date after the forum itself.

“The sooner the better,” board member Doug Carpenter said. “Also, I think a June election is better than getting lost in the election in November when there’s so much more going on.”

Board President Eric Lunn joked that it would already be March by the time they wrapped up their Monday meeting.

“It’s a tight turnaround,” he said.


“I’ll put my track shoes on,” Superintendent Terry Brenner quipped.

New science curriculum, new athletics directors

In related news, board members:

  • Approved $1.54 million worth of new science curriculum. Students in grades K-6 are set to use FOSS science materials, and grades 7-12 are set to use McGraw-Hill textbooks and so on. Advanced Placement biology students are set to use Bedford, Freeman, and Worth materials, and students in applied biology are set to use Savvas Science books and other resources. Money for the new curriculum comes from the district’s ESSER III allocation, which in turn comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.
  • Appointed Tony Bina, an associate principal at Red River High School and former Central High School hockey coach and player, to be the new athletics director at Central. Also interviewed for the job were Dan Carlson, the boys basketball coach at Central; Aaron LaDeaux, the current activities director at Central; and Brian Loe, an associate principal at South Middle School.
  • Appointed Tyler Nelson, the current activities director at Red River High School, to be the school’s new athletics director. LaDeaux and Loe also interviewed for that job. Bina was selected for an interview but dropped out beforehand. The two appointments are the end result of an athletics shakeup the district put in motion last fall.
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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