When Dr. David Flowers was hired earlier this year as superintendent of West Fargo Public Schools, he took control of a district with some baggage.
Two failed bond referendums in as many years, classrooms reaching capacity from a growing student population, and a community wary of the current school administration meant Flowers had a lot of work to do.
Barely three months on the job, he is tackling all of those issues with gusto.
"I don't think I'll be bored," Flowers said, during a recent interview at his office in the Leidal Education Center.
From the looks of things, Flowers hasn't been bored since he stepped foot back in North Dakota from his former superintendent job in Hutchinson, Kan.
Flowers is implementing a multi-pronged approach that he hopes will accurately and decisively create a comprehensive district-wide long-range facility plan. His goal, he said, is to do it right the first time through a precise, data-driven approach led by a "Task Force" of district administrators, staff, parents and taxpayers.
"I see it as a process of balancing our desire and appetite for facilities with the community's support and ability to pay for the facilities," he said.
Flowers also implemented a lofty timeline that culminates in roughly four months.
"It's ambitious," he said. "What I wanted to do was outline what would have to happen, and at what pace if we were to try to get this done soon enough to trigger a bond referendum at the earliest legal point."
That point is in March, though Flowers admits the timeline isn't set in stone.
"I don't want to let the timeline drive us, although there is some point where time does have to drive us, because we are growing - continually," he said. "We don't want to take any longer than is necessary, but I also don't want to rush this."
Through all of this, Flowers hopes to accomplish two key elements: grow community trust and draft the "right plan." Even though the past two referenda failed, he believes that, with a proper approach, the tide can turn in the district's favor.
"You look historically at this community; (it) has been very supportive with past bond referenda. So, I know this is a community that strongly supports public education, and I do think it is a matter of unlocking the public's confidence in a plan that is based on sound data and rationale," he said.
"My goal is not to get a bond issue passed. My goal is to draft a plan that is reasonable and logical and is the right plan for the longest-term future we can envision, given the information that we have. I want to do it right, and have it not second-guessed in two years.
"The other thing I would add is, I don't think I've met any 'no' voters that have said their 'no' is no to any plan that would cost more tax dollars. Their 'no' was to the plan that was advanced, because either they didn't think it was the right plan or didn't have confidence in the process or the data that produced the plan."
The ball is rolling
The rough draft of Flower's long range facility planning process made its debut during the Sept. 13 school board meeting. After brief discussion, Flowers was given the green light to move forward.
Outlined as the overall goal in the process document is to "draft a long-range facilities plan that projects the future space and program needs of students and staff, and aligns them with the community's values and ability to support financially."
The process has three specific goal points: to evaluate and assess current facility assets, fiscal capacities and district properties; to identify, project and predict future enrollment and changes in demographics of students and the community; and to listen to and engage staff, students and community stakeholders.
That latter part is critical, Flowers said. It involves creating the aforementioned task force that will act as the think-tank for the procession.
The task force will be a "cross section of staff and community members. People who voted yes and no on past bond referenda," Flowers said.
"You want those different perspectives," he said. "But democracy is messy. Collaboration can be time consuming, and it can be controversial."
With the task force in place, Flowers will present them with his draft for feedback.
"The first step is to take this process, this outline to them and say, 'alright, here's how we're planning to tackle the planning for our long-range facility needs. Does this make sense? Where are the gaps?'
Based on feedback from the group, Flowers said he can fill in any blanks in the process. Then it's up to the task force to become knowledgeable on data that comes from the process. They'll be engaged from the start, and will have input throughout.
From there, Flowers said, the Task Force would share its knowledge with the rest of the community.
"It's an education process. Helping the broader community through community meetings or focus groups," he said. "Then it's about expanding the circle of those who understand, and hopefully that culminates to 60 percent (at the polls)."
As for the process itself, Flowers said it likely will take both internal work from district staff, as well as outside professional help to get the job done.
An example of professional help would be the possibility of hiring a demographer to study the West Fargo community and come up with a district profile. Such a profile would consider housing development, enrollment data, future growth projections, and data from the two cities and Cass County. Flowers said he used a demographer while working for the Hutchinson School District when the district was faced with moving enrollment boundaries.
"It seems to have worked out well," he said.
Since some criticism during the last failed bond referendum stemmed from questioning the validity of information, Flowers hopes data compiled from this process will quell any doubters.
But above all else, he wants to see this endeavor through.
"There are no foregone conclusions about what's going to emerge from this," Flowers said. "The process is critical, and I certainly don't want any notion that I, or anyone else, has the answer right now; I don't.
"I may have an opinion, but my opinion doesn't matter about what the best plan is, because my opinion isn't informed yet (from) the data that will be generated by this process, and by the conversations that we'll have."
Tyler Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer, and can be reached at 701-451-5717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.