West Fargo Schools planning ahead for 'relentless' growth
West Fargo School Superintendent David Flowers has a nice problem on his hands: Student totals are expected to continue to grow in the next few years. But to him, the more students the better.
School Board members meeting Monday, Nov. 28, shared updated enrollment projections for the next three years that are slightly above current capacity at the middle and high school levels. With that in mind, Flowers and his colleagues again went over the possibility of more schools, including a third high school in West Fargo.
"It's a nice problem to have. We're growing," Flowers said. "But it is somewhat relentless."
He said West Fargo is on track to be the second-largest school district in the state, so the board needs to be thinking ahead for when the high school capacity goes beyond the approximate capacity of roughly 3,000 students, or 1,500 per high school. In fact, he said projections show growth of 400-500 students per year for the next 10 years, a growth of 16 percent over that time.
"We didn't want to be talking about this again, but you can't ignore the numbers," Flowers said of adding another high school. "It's not imminent. We don't have to start planning a bond referendum immediately, but we can't go to sleep at the switch either."
Since most of the city growth is on the south side of West Fargo, Flowers said, additional schools would most likely be on that side of town. He said there's a site big enough for an elementary school off of 52nd Avenue near Deer Creek. With ownership of 77 acres of land on the east side of County Road 17, a high school and middle school might fit there, but Flowers would like to see a bigger plot of land considering West Fargo Sheyenne High School and Liberty Middle School take up about 80 acres. Adding land or swapping for a bigger plot of land with local owners is possible, Flowers said.
"It probably would not be a welcome conversation for many because history is that it was a difficult transition. It took a couple of tries for the community to pass a referendum that saw West Fargo High School splitting into two high schools," Flowers said. "It's always difficult, but the community, which has done it once, has been supportive and it did increase opportunities tremendously."
Fund balance projection under goal again
A budget approved by the board showed this school year's projected ending fund balance just over $10 million, which at 8.41 percent of the total budget is short of the board's goal of 10 percent. The board will have to approve a final budget by December. One of the biggest problems with these budget numbers, Flowers said, is that West Fargo is being funded based on last year's enrollment, which doesn't account for the students the city has been quickly gaining.
"We get funded a year behind," Flowers said. "And when you're growing at the rate we are and having to open new schools, it hurts. It makes it difficult to balance that."
Flowers said initial projections had the ending fund balance beneath 10 percent—the third year in a row the school district was under the mark. Because of the district's growth, Flowers believes the spending is manageable as long as the percentage total doesn't continue to drop substantially.
"We're not really alarmed by it," Flowers said. "But it is something that needs to be managed."