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Another school bond bites the dust

Ella Watson, left, checks in West Fargo High School teacher Rachel Heggen during voting on Tuesday, March 23, on the West Fargo School District bond referendum at the Veterans Memorial Arena. Carrie Snyder/The Pioneer

West Fargo residents had their voices heard loud and clear last week. The result: no new taxes and no new schools.

By less than three percent, the West Fargo School District bond referendum failed March 23, for the second straight year. Had it passed, the district would have been able to move forward on plans of building a new $30 million high school and $10 million elementary school.

For West Fargo officials, the loss is frustrating and couldn't come at a worse time. According to projections, the district faces an ominous space crunch with the addition of an estimated 1,800 students by 2014.

Evidence of this growth already is apparent. Last fall, West Fargo passed Grand Forks to become the third-largest district in the state, and it still is the only district among the top five with just one high school.

In retrospect, turnout for the referendum was light, though similar to last year. School officials had hoped an earlier date would make a better showing, but only 21 percent of the estimated 25,000 eligible residents cast their votes. Of the required 60 percent "yes" votes needed to pass, the district received just 57.35 percent. So even though a majority did vote in favor of a tax increase, it was not the supermajority the city requires.

Based on polling results, a trend was evident among the five polling sites spread across the West Fargo district. In the newer, southern reaches of West Fargo, a majority of residents voted in favor of a tax increase. Roughly 63 percent at the Horace Senior Center and 71 percent at the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center voted for the referendum.

Meanwhile, in the older parts of West Fargo, turnout was much closer to even. The Westside Elementary School and Veterans Memorial polling sites garnered 50 percent and 52 percent, respectively, in favor of the bond. The Harwood Elementary School polling site was the only one with a majority of voters opting for the "no" vote, with 54 percent against the referendum.

For now, however, board members will have to look at short-term planning for additional classroom space. Members already said they don't expect to talk about long-term space solution until after a new superintendent is in place. Current Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace announced her resignation earlier this year, and her last day is June 30.

Had the school building bond referendum passed, taxes incurred would have cost roughly $77 for a $100,000 household.