An evening of firsts
Monday evening was one of firsts for the West Fargo School Board.
Newly elected members Dave Olson and Judy Kvaale participated in their first official board meeting, as did Superintendent Dr. David Flowers and Business Manager Mark Lemer.
Longtime board member Karen Nitzkorski was elected president, her first time at the position. The former vice president takes over for Tom Gentzkow, who recently ended his tenure with the board to spend more time with family. Filling in as vice president will be Ben Koppelman, who also was nominated and elected Monday.
Though planned with a rather light lineup, the meeting foreshadowed how this new board could interact during the upcoming months. An agenda item about the proposed West Fargo Area and Fargo-Moorhead Chambers of Commerce merger sparked a friendly debate.
Flowers brought to the board's attention ballots he received asking for the district's vote as to whether the two chambers should combine into one. What followed polarized the board somewhat.
"If you had asked me this same question 6 or 7 years ago, I'd have said 'no way,'" Koppelman said. "Now, I think they should merge."
Olson disagreed, saying he'd rather West Fargo keep its own identity, "and promote our own businesses."
"It's a tough call," board member Patti Stedman said. "I'm not sure if I'd notice a difference" if the boards merged.
Proponents of the merger pointed to the hurting economy and its impact on local businesses. Many area businesses already are members of both chambers, Koppelman said, so it would make sense to merge them and negate one of the fees.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of a "yes" vote for the ballot. Olson was the only member to vote against it.
Another impact of the new faces was felt during discussions of the district's budget.
In hopes of streamlining the current budget, Lemer and Flowers are dissecting the current budget to get a better idea of the economic timeline and the idiosyncrasies within. Because there is so much to dissect and work through, they asked for more time to finalize a budget draft before bringing it back to the school board.
"There is no way to deconstruct and reconstruct it in two weeks," Lemer said. "Our goal is to bring you a budget that is comprehensive ... one, single, uniform document."
Lemer said the current budget is broken up into too many areas, making it difficult to comprehend. His hope is to make it easier for the district and board to keep track of the budget and quickly figure out how monies allocations effect it.
Officials wanted to make a point that this budget overhaul wasn't being done because of "impropriety or anything wrong."
"We want confidence in the order of aggregation up to the numbers seen," Flowers said.
"We want to go back to a more formalized budget process ... to more of what it was before," Lemer said.
Nitzkorski and others agreed the change would be welcomed.
"We feel like we've been flying a little bit blind," she said.
Focus groups: In hopes of facilitating communication, Flowers will be implementing focus groups to help get to know the community a little better, and "provide me a vehicle to become acquainted with some people," he said. The focus groups would gather people from all walks of life, from business leaders to PTA members to nonprofits. Flowers said they basically would be asked what the strengths of the district are, "and what we can do better." Dates for the groups have not been set.