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Freedom Elementary opens at capacity: School board discusses future facility plans

Freedom Elementary opened it's doors to 565 students this past Thursday in West Fargo. Daniel Determan / West Fargo Pioneer1 / 2
Freedom Elementary's library, located in the center of the building, features a tree motif, promoting the growth of its students. Daniel Determan / West Fargo Pioneer2 / 2

Freedom elementary opened its doors to its first group of students on Thursday, and on its first day, it was already filled past capacity.

The school was built for 550 students, but it catered to 565 students on Thursday morning.

"We are thrilled with this new space, and we are very grateful to the voters in May of 2011 for giving approval so we could construct this building," District Superintendent David Flowers said in a press conference on Thursday. "I don't know what we would do if we did not have this space, because this space is full."

The plan for the school was to have 24 classrooms with an average class of 23 students, but some classes will actually have 27 or 28 students. According to Dr. Flowers, this is still within district standards.

"We budget across the district based on an average class size of 23," Flowers said. "We like the class sizes a little smaller at the primary level, and let them be a little larger at the intermediate level. So when we say that we are at or over capacity, it does not mean that we are uncomfortably overcrowded by any means."

The fact that the school opened at its capacity begs the question: What happens next year if (or when) enrollment goes up by another 500 students?

That question was discussed amongst the school board members on Monday evening.

At their meeting, Dr. Flowers and district business manager Mark Lemer presented the pros and cons of two possible options: either begin construction of another new elementary school as soon as possible or delay construction for at least another year.

With the first option, the earliest this proposed elementary school would be completed is in August of 2014. This new school would hold the district to a minimum number of students affected by relief options, like relocating classes to other schools, as several first grade classes were held in the Osgood Kindergarten Center last year. However, the new building would trigger additional operational costs, impact the budget and potentially increase taxes.

With the second option, an elementary school would not be completed until, at the very earliest, August of 2015. This option would impact the budget in a positive way, but increase the number of students affected by relief options, which could, as school board president Kay Kiefer pointed out, affect the academic performance of those students.

Dr. Flowers mentioned that if construction is delayed, then relief options could see fourth- and fifth-graders attending classes at Liberty Middle school for the 2013-2014 school year.

At the same time, he admits that the budget issues a new school could bring may impact staffing and pay increases at the existing schools within the district. However, budget relief from the state, which could potentially fund for the appropriate number of students in the year they arrive instead of the next year, may be possible for the growing district.

This issue was simply discussed at Monday's meeting. The board will take action on this issue in the coming weeks.

Also at the meeting, the board agreed on a consolidated application for Title I, II and III funds and authorized Director of Assessments & Federal Programs Beth Slette as the district's representative.