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Ex-school board member throws hat back into ring

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Eight years after moving to Mapleton and resigning from the West Fargo School Board, Jeff Shirley is back and ready for another term.

"Honestly, it's something I've thought about the whole time," Shirley said, of serving again on the board. "I kind of had an empty feeling when I resigned. I didn't really want to and it wasn't my first choice, but that's the way it rolled out."

Shirley, 53, turned in his official application with West Fargo Business Manager Mark Lemer last week. As of Friday, Lemer said Shirley is the only applicant on file for one of the three open school board seats.

Four-year terms are due for school board president Ben Koppelman and board members Kay Kiefer and Patti Stedman. Of the trio, only Koppelman has confirmed that he will not be returning, as he instead runs for the Republican nomination for the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 16

Kiefer and Stedman both said they were interested in running for another term with the board, but have yet to turn in their paperwork as of this publication.

Interested candidates for the West Fargo School Board have until 4 p.m. April 13 to hand in their completed Affidavit of Candidacy and a Statement of Interest forms. Voting will take place in conjunction with the June 12 primary election.

Shirley recently moved from Mapleton to Harwood with his wife, Kristy, and his two-month-old daughter. He also has two grown daughters who have gone through West Fargo Public Schools.

"I'm a strong believer in the public school system. It has treated my family well," Shirley said.

Originally from Rothsay, Minn., Shirley moved to North Dakota in the 1970s and has been here ever since. He currently works for Noridian as a Recoupment Specialist. At one point, Shirley also worked for Pioneer Enterprises (the West Fargo Pioneer's parent company) before it was sold to Forum Communications Co.

Shirley said public service is in his blood, as his father and mother both were involved with small-town city governments. While in Mapleton, Shirley served on both the city council and also was the mayor for a couple of years.

Now, Shirley is back in West Fargo and ready to put his experience to good use in the one of the state's fastest growing school districts.

"This growth is a constant struggle," he said. "People talk about the oil patch and what they're dealing with, but West Fargo at its district level has been dealing with that for the past 10 years."

Construction in the district is in full tilt thanks to the $82 million bond referendum that passed during the last election. In his last term with the West Fargo School Board, Shirley was involved with the previous bond referendum to get passed, which resulted in reconstruction of many of the district's buildings, as well as construction of schools, including Cheney Middle School.

And as the district continues its unprecedented growth, Shirley said keeping communication open with the public is key.

"Things have to be thought out well enough so that, when that conscientious voter asks questions, they can be answered directly," he said.

If populations continue to increase as projections show, new school buildings likely will need to be built to accommodate the influx of students. Knowing when to build those institutions is important.

"We need to keep the balance and know it's just a moving target," he said. "It's not like the district is in a position to build five or 10 buildings and the let them sit empty until the kids come. That may be the easy way, but it's not reality."

If he gets elected for the school board, Shirley said he will use his experience from serving in the past, as well as his more recent public service in Mapleton, to help guide his decision.

"I think my favorite part about serving on the board was watching this huge organization come together and find common ground on things," Shirley said. "That's always been something I try to do: build consensus.

"A famous North Dakota once said that, as people, we have more in common than differences. We need to find those commonalities."