Our view: Vote ‘yes’ on Grand Forks school referendum
Valley Middle School definitely needs to be replaced. It was built in the 1950s when a different model of education existed.
The thing about school referendums is that the unsuccessful ones often return in an amended or even better form.
Two years ago, Grand Forks voters shot down a proposal to issue bonds in the amount of $86 million and build a new K-8 school on the city’s north side. It would have led to the demolition of nearby neighborhood schools. Additionally, voters were asked to increase the school building fund levy to pay for improvement projects throughout the district.
Prior to the vote, the Herald said raising the mill rates was a good idea, but we suggested a “no” vote on building a new school.
“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,” we wrote prior to the election. “It’s worth a pause.”
Both questions were defeated. The proposal to raise taxes for improvements gained 55% approval – short of the required 60% – and the plan to build a new school only received 31% approval.
Now, voters are again being asked to decide. On Tuesday, May 16, school district patrons will vote on a plan to build a new Valley Middle School, but to leave alone the nearby neighborhood schools. The proposal also includes construction of a new central kitchen facility near the Sanford Education Center and an upgrade of security in schools throughout the district.
This proposal is easier on residents’ pocketbooks. The total cost is $79 million — $55 million for the school, $18 million for security and $6 million for the central kitchen. Notably, the proposal isn’t to build a K-8 school at Valley, but to instead build a new middle school.
In 2021, the Herald didn’t necessarily dislike the idea of a new K-8 school. Nor did the Herald dislike the idea of moving away from neighborhood schools, which we feel is inevitable, especially as neighborhood schools age beyond their usefulness.
But as so many people were against the idea, it was best to – as we wrote prior to the vote – take a pause and come up with a better plan.
We feel that has happened.
Valley Middle School definitely needs to be replaced. It was built in the 1950s when a different model of education existed. It has heating and air conditioning issues, and it also cannot meet the needs required of educating children with special needs. Because of these issues, children who attend Valley are not getting the same educational experience that is offered to children in other city schools.
The district has provided ample information to the public. Last time, some voters claimed they knew little or nothing about the referendum. After dozens of meetings and public outreach efforts, we don’t believe that to be the case this time.
Part of the referendum includes that new central kitchen, to be built near the Sanford Education Center. It will replace an outdated facility at Valley, increase accessibility for trucks and reduce congestion in the current neighborhood.
And finally, this referendum includes a number of security upgrades throughout the district. As dangerous and deadly events continue to occur throughout the nation’s public spaces, these security measures will increase the safety of our students and district employees.
In hindsight, it’s good the measure failed in 2021, since it did indeed allow more time for what we consider a better – and more palatable – plan to come forward.
Perhaps proof of the palatability is that we have heard from so few opponents. In 2021, opponents were numerous, visible and vocal.
A new Valley Middle School is needed in Grand Forks. The associated upgrades – to the kitchen facility and building security – are needed, too.
We suggest a “yes” vote on Tuesday.