It’s been a month since the Grand Forks School Board voted to hold a special election this fall to seek approval to increase the school district’s building fund levy, from 10 mills to 20.
Two months ago, the measure failed to pass in a citywide vote. Although it received a majority -- 54.6% -- of votes, it failed to get the required 60% approval. The mathematical difference was 466 votes (2,942 in favor and 2,476 opposed), but technically the difference was only half that -- if 234 more people had voted in favor rather than against, it would have passed.
And now, the next vote is Sept. 28, only five weeks away. Yet the atmosphere is surprisingly quiet about it.
Does the calmness indicate some level of confidence that enough voters will change their minds and past favorable voters will head to the polls? Or should it cause concern that, once again, residents will claim they didn’t know enough about the plan, which will raise their taxes to pay for improvements to schools throughout the district?
No doubt about it, something needs to be done for Grand Forks schools, many of which are showing their age.
At a recent meeting between school district staff and city leaders, an exhaustive list of problems at 18 school buildings was presented. All told, school staff say the cost of the needed repairs comes in around $260 million -- considerably higher than actual deferred maintenance figures previously discussed.
As reported by the Herald: “District staff presented slide after slide of problems: buildings without proper sprinkler systems, sinking granite staircases, sweltering elementary schools, decades-old HVAC systems, and high school pools that were to be shut down because of unfixed filtration systems.”
Mayor Brandon Bochenski especially found it disheartening.
“How can we have a good growing town without having proper schools? ... We need to look to the future and then solve some of these problems because it affects the region, it affects the kids’ quality of their education,” Bochenski said. “It’s not something that is a punchline.”
But it is, and it will continue to be until funds are raised to fix these issues.
That’s why we believe the Sept. 28 vote is necessary and must pass, and it’s also why we believe people better start getting loud about it so there can be no post-election accusations that information was not adequately shared, or that people didn’t really know what they were voting on. These accusations came amid the June 22 election, and probably led to the proposal’s past demise.
In a way, it’s rather nice to have some peace and quiet before an election. But this time, for the sake of local schools and the children who attend them, some noise is needed, and right quick.