The West Fargo School Board approved its preliminary budget Monday, July 27, for the 2020-21 school year. Due to continued taxable valuations growing across the district, the mill levy will see a slight increase, but one less than years past.

The district expects its student population to continue to grow at the rapid pace of 400 or more students in the 2020-21 school year — the same rate the district has grown the past 10 years — making it likely that West Fargo enrollment will surpass the Fargo School District's this year.

Business manager Levi Bachmeier said the new year's budget is a 1.54 percent overall taxable increase. This means a $100,000 home would see an increase of less than $9.50 per $100,000.

"It is an increase, but it's less than the board has improved historically," Bachmeier said.

The district’s total overall levy in 2020 was 137.79 mills, an increase over 133.31 mills in 2019, which caused an increase in property owners' tax bills of $20.06 for a $100,000 home.

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The district's mill levies are based on an estimated taxable valuation of $427.6 million, which is an increase of 7.17%. The total number of mills levied would be 139.37, which is 2.11 mills more than last year. In the 2019-20 school year, the district grew 4.48 mills in its budget.

Earlier this year, the school district was able to pay off its special assessments early, saving itself about $2 million in interest payments.

"We're always looking at ways to save money, and that was a perfect example," board President Patti Stedman said.

A public hearing will be held before the school district finalizes it budget in October. Unlike a city, school districts are able to adjust a levy up or down before the final budget is set.

The West Fargo School District expects to release its plan for education amid the coronavirus pandemic this fall on Friday, July 31.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has directed school districts to issue a specific plan for returning to school that can involve distance learning, returning to the buildings or a hybrid option.

Superintendent Beth Slette said the district is likely to create a hybrid plan.

"While we have a high level of certainty around the fact that we will need to open in a hybrid model, we do not yet know what the details of that hybrid model are," Slette said in a memo to parents and staff last week. "Those details will be included in the comprehensive plan that we release to all staff and families on Friday, July 31. At this time, our use of the term “hybrid model” only means that we are preparing to provide both in-person and distance learning opportunities for our students. We do not yet have the specifics around whether there may be groups of students that can elect to be fully in-person or fully distance, or what a staggered schedule could potentially look like to help us meet those distancing and gathering considerations. Those, and many other details, will be ironed out by committees over the next several days."

Slette said a plan for reopening would be brought to the board for approval at a special meeting Aug. 3.