School board decides to delay second referendum
After listening to comments and suggestions from parents and residents attending three community input meetings, West Fargo school board members decided October 6 is too early to go back to the voters with a second bond election. Meeting with the Planning and Development Committee immediately following the last input meeting scheduled on Monday, August 17, at West Fargo High School, all seven board members agreed that they need more time to analyze the information acquired at the input meetings before coming back with a second referendum plan.
"As board president, I would not feel comfortable going out for a bond election on October 6th," Tom Gentzkow stated just minutes into the planning meeting. Later, he speculated that it would be at least a month before the board will feel comfortable setting a new date for another election. The board made plans to attend Back to School Nights at each of the West Fargo schools to try to get additional input from parents on what they would like to see in the new referendum package. A survey is also being planned to canvas the district.
One thing that was made very clear to board members from comments during the input meetings was that the district needs to come back with a clearly defined plan before scheduling another bond election. Confusion over boundaries and clarification of details for the $65 million building project were two common reasons people attending the input meetings said they voted 'no' on the June 8th referendum. For many, the cost of the original plan was too high. However, many others indicated that it wasn't as much about the price tag for the building projects as it was about being the wrong plan for the district's needs. Almost everyone seemed to realize that something has to be done about overcrowding in West Fargo schools, but many differing opinions surfaced about how the district should go about solve the space issues.
"I don't think anyone disagrees that we are overcrowded," Cheney Middle School instructor Tim Scully commented at the second meeting. However, he questioned the scope of the original plan, referring to a Cadillac versus a Chevy comparison to the configuration of buildings.
"Give me a square room," Scully said. "With overcrowding at the Middle School, maybe the sixth graders should go back to the elementary schools," he suggested.
One source of discontent mentioned several times throughout the input meetings was the lack of trust in the district. Laura Fiskin, who moved to the district with her family from Texas, said she voted 'yes' on the June 8th referendum, yet she is disturbed by the morale issues and mistrust plaguing the district.
"In a district with so much unrest, will they be good stewards of my money?" Fiskin asked following one of the meetings.
Dr. Chuck Cheney, former superintendent of schools, came to the second meeting as an observer. He reminded the group that the idea for a second high school was already being discussed before Cheney Middle School was built. He said getting past the hurdle of acceptance of the concept of a second high school was a challenge back then, and the hurdle is still there now.
"I think the principles of the plan [first referendum] were quite good," Cheney said, but added, "I think this plan was an over reach financially."
At the third meeting, LeRoy Nesemeier looked back on past bond elections he was involved with as a former business manager for the district.
"Every bond we've been involved with, and I was involved with ten of them, we could never go in there and put in everything we wanted. Berger didn't get carpet the first year," Nesemeier said.
Bringing up another point of concern, Nesemeier added, "You've got to remember that we don't have enough money in the general funds to staff our schools. We've always had that problem."
But in an input group in the next room, Gene Nygaard was adamant that we need to pass a bond issue quickly.
"Do we need more room in our schools? You bet we do. I don't care how much money it takes, we better find it," Nygaard said.
According to information provided by the district offices, total enrollment figures, as of August 13, were at 6,859. In order to help alleviate crowding at Cheney Middle School, 160 sixth and seventh graders will have classes at the Lodoen Center in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program, and 90 eighth graders will move to the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center this year.
West Fargo High School, at 1,394 students, is 144 over its 1,250 capacity; Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center is three students away from its 600 student capacity with 597 students registered; Cheney Middle School, with 1,265 students after moving the additional 250 students to the Lodoen and Sheyenne Centers, is 15 over its 1,250 capacity; Aurora Elementary has 555 students, 30 over its 525 capacity.
The Lodoen Kindergarten Center is six over its 400 capacity, however, the Osgood Kindergarten Center has a little room, with 263 enrolled in a 320 capacity facility. The other elementary schools range between 68 percent to 97 percent capacity.
Historically, enrollment figures continue to increase after registration through Labor Day. A clearer breakdown of actual enrollment numbers by schools will be available after September 30, when the district compiles updated enrollment numbers.