The Herald believes in progress. Often, that means higher taxes or assessments for residents.
With that in mind, we back a local proposal to raise mill rates in Grand Forks to generate funds for improvements at school campuses throughout the community.
As for a new K-8 school on the city’s north end? We’re not convinced the time is right.
Grand Forks voters will decide the fate of the two-part proposal at an election on Tuesday, June 22, at the Alerus Center. A 60% majority is required for each question to pass.
Specifically, the ballot asks voters to answer two questions:
Question 1: Shall Grand Forks Public School District issue its general obligation bonds in the amount not to exceed $86,000,000 maturing within a maximum of 20 years, resulting in an estimated additional millage of 21.95 mills, equal to $21.95 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation for the first taxable year, for the purpose of providing funds, together with any other funds available, to construct and equip a new K-8 school building; to demolish school buildings; to renovate, remodel and improve school buildings; and to otherwise improve and renovate school property.
Question 2: Shall the school building fund levy be increased from 10 mills to 20 mills?
Let’s start with Question 2. By voting “yes,” residents will allow the district to raise mills to generate about $2.5 million per year for improvement projects at all local public schools. The impact to property owners is an increase of approximately $3.75 in taxes per month for every $100,000 in value.
We agree with the plan. It’s needed so much that we believe district leaders should have sought gradual increases over the past decade, rather than one large boost this year. Nevertheless, voters should approve Question 2.
Question 1 (building a new school) also addresses a pressing need. The monthly tax impact for the homeowner would be $8.23 for every $100,000 in taxable property value, if the measure passes.
But too many questions and suspicions exist to move forward now with the plan.
Future school closures and consolidations on the north end are inevitable. District leaders say Winship and Wilder elementaries are outdated and not fully in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Questions have been raised in recent weeks about this expensive and controversial proposal. The process leading up to the election has been clumsy, especially the district’s relationship with a consulting firm that appears too aggressive to push the plan through.
The firm, SitelogIQ, did not give an explanation when the Herald sought one. Our belief: The firm is being paid with the people’s money and the people deserve an answer.
The district’s Facilities Task Force, made up of 40-plus community members, did not tour the elementary schools targeted for closure, and the neighborhoods were not surveyed.
Some residents say the district has not yet adequately raised awareness, nor has it done enough to quell uncertainty. Even the ballot itself doesn’t tell voters which elementary schools will be closed and demolished (Wilder and Winship) if they vote “yes.”
The task force consisted of dedicated people who spent months on an unenviable assignment and they deserve appreciation for their work. Remember that COVID certainly hindered the process. Yet work remains.
Without doubt, this is an issue that will arise again and next time, we suspect we will endorse consolidation and even school closure on the city’s north end, where the schools are becoming outdated. Opponents have concerns about having K-8 students on the same campus (although essentially two facilities), but we do not. After all, most small towns make K-8 facilities work.
North-end parents must understand compromise will be important and they bear responsibility for attending board meetings and getting involved in discussions. Without COVID-related restrictions and with more time, the district will be able to better present its plans in open, face-to-face meetings and tours.
Defeating the proposal to build a new school will create an opportunity for a deeper public examination of facilities and perhaps a more accepted plan moving forward. It’s worth a pause.
Voters, if you firmly believe the district has done its due diligence, has adequately explained the eagerness of the consulting firm and fully vetted the proposed new school with the residents in the affected neighborhoods, vote “yes” for the new school and for closing Wilder and Winship.
However, considering the uncertainty that remains among north-end residents, our advice is a “no” vote on Question 1 (building a new school) but “yes” on Question 2 (raising the mill rates).