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West Fargo board delays decision on school boundaries for 2018

WEST FARGO— A proposal to change West Fargo School District boundaries for 2018 failed Monday, Nov. 13, after some School Board members said they needed more time to consider changes that will shift 963 students next fall.

The board had its first look at a map of the proposed boundary changes shortly before the meeting, and reviewed a petition signed by nearly 100 residents of West Fargo's Shadow Wood Neighborhood asking the board to reconsider moving their children from Freedom Elementary to Independence.

Board Member Patti Stedman said Monday that instead of deciding that night, the board should discuss it further at its Nov. 20 retreat. But board member Alan Skramstad said delaying a decision would not respect the work of the task force.

A task force made up of principals and parent representatives from each elementary school created the boundary changes proposal after meeting four times this fall.

Stedman's initial motion to table the boundary changes failed due to a tie vote. Stedman, Dan Schaeffer and Andrea Payne voted in favor of tabling the vote, but President Kara Gravley-Stack, Skramstad and Jon Erickson voted against it. Board Member Shauna Vistad did not attend. A motion to approve the proposed changes then failed due to a second tie vote. Superintendent David Flowers said the boundary changes will now be discussed at the board's retreat scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 20 at the West Fargo Sports Arena, with another vote on the proposal at its next regular meeting Nov. 27.

The boundary changes are needed to accommodate the opening of Willow Park Elementary School at 4901 15th Ave. S. in Fargo, and the addition of kindergarten at all elementary schools.

An estimated 399 students who live in the boundary from Ninth/Veterans Street to Interstate 29 and 13th Avenue South to Interstate 94 will attend Willow Park. The changes also require 138 students who live in the area east of Fourth Street and west of Veterans between 32nd Avenue and 40th Avenue to move from Freedom to Independence Elementary.

About a dozen parents attended Monday's board meeting. Five, all from the Shadow Wood Neighborhood, asked the board to reconsider the proposed changes.

"I respectfully oppose moving our children out of Freedom and into Independence," Angela Hagen said. "Every time our children move, it's a start over."

"I'm asking you to not make a decision tonight," parent Erin Mauriello said. "Please, just take some more time."

Dez Keifer, who broke down in tears while speaking to the board, said her children have thrived at Freedom Elementary since moving to the school from a small town.

She said if the board will not reconsider the boundaries, it should try to group the students who move from Freedom to a new school in the same classrooms to have some familiarity.

In making its recommendation, the task force considered stability—or lines that could remain unchanged for a long time—proximity to schools, balance of class size, demographics and the capacity of schools, said Beth Slette, assistant superintendent for elementary schools.

"We could have done something different at Freedom, but it would have been just a different group of kids [having to move]," she said.

Gravley-Stack, who also sat in on task force meetings, said the task force considered all the information it had

"There was a perception that we rushed through the process, but I don't think we did," Gravley Stack said

Fifty-two students will move from Westside to Eastwood Elementary, and 88 students will move from L.E. Berger to Eastwood Elementary. About 21 students north of Main Avenue will move from South Elementary to Westside.

Slette said 191 students will move from Independence to Osgood, which will house kindergarten through fifth grade for the first time in 2018.

To balance overcrowded Legacy Elementary School, 76 students who live near Osgood Golf course, Rocking Horse Farms and McMahon Estates 3 will move to Independence.

The West Fargo School District has opened six new elementary schools in about as many years to accommodate its booming student population, with boundary changes needed each year a new school has opened. The School Board agreed to begin construction on a 15th elementary school next year in the Deer Creek neighborhood of Fargo. That school would open in 2019.

"What happens next year? What happens the year after?" parent Keri Ehlis asked. "Are we going to have to be here next year trying to voice our opinions again to get our kids that stability?"

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and and at CBS Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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