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Opponents rally against West Fargo school referendum

Tuesday's school referendum in West Fargo is shaping up to be a more hotly contested vote than the one a year ago.

With four days until the election, residents are facing off on the $40 million building referendum that would fund a new high school and elementary school.

Business owner and parent Dave Olson said Thursday that, because it's a "worse plan" than last June's $65 million referendum, it's causing frustration to build up.

"There's not a need for this type of referendum," said the 35-year resident of West Fargo who's heading up opposition efforts against what he calls a "short-sighted" plan.

Supporters, though, are doing their part to advocate for the vote, countering opponents' claims.

They posted neon signs around the city, launched Web sites, distributed 500 yard signs and doled out 6,000 door hangers this week.

"I still am cautiously optimistic," said real estate agent and parent Valerie Fiske, the "Vote Yes" committee's co-chairwoman and a six-year West Fargo resident, adding that she thinks opponents are "a small group of people. But they're very loud."

Using mainly e-mails, a group of about 20 referendum opponents are also getting their message out, parent Todd Warner said.

While they oppose the vote, "it's not that we're against schools by any means," said Warner, a pilot and 16-year resident.

"If they said they wanted a middle school and a grade school, this thing would pass by probably

95 percent," Warner added. "The big holdup is the high school, which we don't need."

For Warner, Olson and other opponents, their main sticking points with a second high school are that not all programs will be duplicated at the new school, middle school students will be on the same campus as high school students and it may fill up by the time it opens.

"I completely agree that there is a need for new schools ... but not this approach," Olson said.

The movement against two high schools frustrates supporters such as Heather Strand.

As class sizes go up in her daughter's fourth-grade Aurora Elementary School class, it shows there's a need soon for space, she said, or "it will just continue to get worse."

Other parents, she said, are so opposed to the idea of one mega middle school and one large high school that they'll send their kids to Fargo public or private school next year if Tuesday's vote fails.

The school district needs 60 percent voter approval to build new schools. If it fails, the district can't go back to voters for a year.

"There is a sense of urgency," Fiske said. "The kids are here, they're coming."