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West Fargo School Board approves elementary school boundary change

Starting this fall, some elementary school students will be doing the West Fargo Shuffle.

The West Fargo School Board voted unanimously Monday night to allow a school boundary change to help alleviate congestion.

"This boundary change isn't perfect, but it's practical," Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace said.

As it stands, the change would switch northern West Fargo students in blocks 10-15 (west of Sheyenne Street and between 32nd Avenue N. and 40th Avenue N.) from Westside to Harwood Elementary School. Likewise, southern West Fargo students in blocks 1-5 (west of Sheyenne and between 64th Avenue S. and 52nd Avenue S.) would move from Aurora to Horace.

With excess space already available at Westside, the additional exodus would allow four blocks west of Highway 29 and east of 9th Street E. to move from Berger and Aurora Elementary Schools to Westside.

Those blocks were the areas of biggest concern to board members, because of the comparatively high population densities.

Moving the boundaries now will give parents and principals plenty of notice about where students will go for school, officials said. This would be easier than waiting until August to assign students schools based on space availability.

The biggest hurdle the district has had to face is the growth of certain areas with the decline of others. The northern reaches of West Fargo have seen the decline, Wallace said, whereas the newer-southern stretches are getting the bulk of the expansion.

"We've got to find a place to put these kids," she said. "I think if you could take one (of the northern elementary schools) on a trailer and drag it south, you'd be in good shape."

The school board admitted the change would undoubtedly ruffle some parents' feathers, but as board member Duane Hanson said, "they should have thought of that more during the bond issue."

This year marked the second time in as many years that a school building referendum failed to garner enough votes. Now district officials are forced to take this step, the board said.

Though many parents want their children to attend a "neighborhood" school associated with close-proximity neighbors and friends, Diesel Wallace wondered Monday just how realistic that is nowadays.

"You can have friends right across the street, and they go to a different school" because of boundary lines, she said. And many students, particularly those located in the high-density areas like the one around West Acres, are bussed to schools further away.

Still, to the board members, the positives outweighed the negatives.

"I think parents would be unhappy with their children going to a different school this fall, but I think they'd be unhappier with their kids in a classroom where learning wasn't happening" because of space issues, board member Angela Korsmo said.

The West Fargo School District is looking at other ways to alleviate space issues. On Monday, the board approved applying for $5 million in federal Qualified School Construction bonds. The bonds have terms are 15-16 years and "are essentially interest-free," said district business manager Joe Sykora.

Construction could start as soon as this fall, board president Tom Gentzkow said.

The district currently also still has $5 million in stimulus money yet to be used, which could potentially go to construction costs. Hanson, who is on his last term with the board and is not seeking re-election, said he'd like to see that money put away, especially considering there still are plenty of maintenance and construction projects going on in the district.

Diesel Wallace's last board meeting also was Monday.

The board thanked her for her years of service, and rose for a standing ovation.

"It's been a great ride," Diesel Wallace said. "I enjoyed about 95 percent of it, and I'm being sincere. I wouldn't change much at all"

Her last day is June 30. Her replacement, Dr. David Flowers, is scheduled to step in July 1. The current Hutchinson (Kan.) School Superintendent is also the former leader of the Fargo School District.