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West Fargo Public Schools: What is the plan for the proposed bond referendum?

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles concerning the West Fargo Public Schools upcoming bond referendum.

The West Fargo School District prepares the youth of five communities (Harwood, Horace, Reiles Acres, West Fargo, and a portion of Fargo) to be productive, well-rounded, informed, responsible and contributing members of society.

To get an accurate picture of what the West Fargo School District truly looks like, the 2010 census data is helpful. That data indicated that the West Fargo School District population total is 48,867. The city of West Fargo grew 72.9 percent, and the city of Horace earned the title of fastest growing city in the state of North Dakota, with a 165.6 percent population increase.

Besides using that census data (which is only compiled and distributed every 10 years), the district has historically utilized the cohort survival method, which looks at live birth rates in the county, to plan for student enrollment. This year, the school board decided to look more deeply at the recent growth, and hired an independent demographer to study the district.

RSP & Associates utilized a sophisticated forecast model to provide enrollment projections, which closely aligned with the projections done using the district's standard method. The state demographer, surprised by the numbers he'd heard, utilized yet another projection system to look at the West Fargo School District.

All three of these projection models indicated that the district population would see large-scale growth in just four years.

These projections indicate that the currently over-crowded spaces will continue to experience more and more crowding, with a shortage of nearly 2,000 seats by the start of the 2015-2016 school year. As the chart indicates, nearly every building is projected to exceed maximum capacity by 2015. It is important to keep in mind that we live in a diverse, sprawling community, which creates different environments at each of our schools.

For example, let's look at L.E. Berger to understand why the building appears to be functioning so far below what was published as the preferred capacity:

• When all twenty-three classrooms are utilized as a learning environment for 24 students, the maximum capacity of L.E. Berger is 550 students. However, the preferred class size for elementary students is an average of 23, and each elementary school building should have one flexible learning space for instruction in areas like art and health, which brings the preferred capacity down to 480.

• Since L.E. Berger is an older building, it does not have specific small group learning spaces; therefore one classroom is utilized for Special Education, and another for Title I services.

• In addition to this need, another two classrooms at L.E. Berger are utilized for the district's ELL Newcomer Center.

All of these factors mean that L.E. Berger is currently at its preferred capacity with just 396 students.

Another school that functions below its published preferred capacity is Harwood. While the populations in Harwood and Reiles Acres increased by 18.3 percent and 102 percent respectively over the last 10 years, the elementary school currently has just one classroom per grade level with class sizes ranging from 17 to 24.

Harwood Elementary is projected to be close to preferred capacity by 2015, but maximum capacity could only be reached by placing kindergarten back in the building with an average class size of 28, having an unbalanced number of sections, or by increasing class size to an average of 34.

Students are not born and raised in neighborhoods in packages of the proper class size that can be neatly and perfectly fit into each classroom; class sizes vary from year to year across the district. Achieving a perfect balance would mean redrawing boundary lines each year to maximize the space, which is not a favored solution because the school board is committed to providing neighborhood schools and a sense of community.

The remaining schools are functioning at or above preferred capacity, which means that:

• Class sizes have been increased and flexible learning spaces are limited.

• Students are receiving instruction in spaces that were not intended for that purpose.

• At the elementary level, teachers for subjects like art and health do not have a classroom space in which to teach, and therefore must move instructional materials and supplies from one classroom to another throughout the day.

• At the secondary level, some teachers for the core subjects have also been relegated to "classrooms on a cart," and move throughout their building during the day. Not only is this practice hard on the teacher whose classroom is on the cart, it is also a hardship for the teacher who must be displaced. The "classrooms on a cart" practice requires the classroom teacher to leave their room during their preparation time, meaning that materials that they would use for instructional planning are more difficult to access.  

• At the high school level, the school day has been extended to allow for an additional instructional block (Early Bird). 

If you are interested in seeing more on the 2010 census, please visit:

If you would like an opportunity to gain further information, please consider attending one of the community meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. on the following dates, or visit our website at Thursday, May 5 - Commission Chambers 800 4th Ave East; Wednesday, May 11 - Cheney Middle School 825 17th Ave East; Thursday, May 12 - Sheyenne 9th Grade Center 800 40th Ave East; Monday, May 16 - Aurora Elementary School 3420 9th St West; Tuesday, May 17 - Cheney Middle School; Wednesday, May 18 - Commission Chambers.