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Neighborhood schools advocate tops Fargo schools race; incumbents Goldenberg, Boyd return to board

Rebecca Knutson1 / 5
2 / 5
David Paulson3 / 5
Jennifer Benson4 / 5
Linda Boyd5 / 5

FARGO – Neighborhood schools advocate Rebecca Knutson topped an 11-candidate pack to win one of five seats up for grabs on the Fargo School Board in complete, but unofficial returns Tuesday.

With all 16 precincts reporting, the top five were Knutson with 13 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent Linda Boyd at 12 percent, Jennifer Benson at 12 percent, incumbent Dinah Goldenberg at 10 percent and David Paulson at 10 percent.

Trailing were Brian Martin with 9 percent, Scott Dahms with 8 percent, Marty Livingood with 7 percent; Tyler Anderson with 7 percent, Ahmed Kamel with 6 percent and Teri-Lee James with 5 percent.

“I look forward to digging in my heels and analyzing what our next steps are,” Knutson said late Tuesday.

Knutson said she wants to create “more aggressive community involvement,” particularly with discussions about any future votes on the district’s general fund mill levy.

“It just seems like the community really wants to have a voice at the table,” Knutson said. She’d also like to see more coordination and communication between the city, park district and the School Board.

“I’m happy. I’m really grateful for the community support,” Boyd said. “I think it’s great that the community has recognized the work” done by the board.

Benson has been active in school issues for several years, including with the Kennedy PTA, the Kennedy Neighborhood Association and the school district’s long-range facilities planning.

“I am extremely excited,” Benson said. “I look forward to the future and this opportunity.”

Goldenberg, the board’s current president, will now add to her eight years with that body.

Eight years “goes real fast,” Goldenberg said. “I appreciate the support of the voters.”

She said getting financial security for the district is of paramount importance.

“Whether we go back to the (voters for a) mill levy vote or not, everything else hinges on the long range finances,” Goldenberg said.

Paulson had been in a tight race with Martin for most of the night for the fifth seat up for election.

“I’m certainly happy. I’m looking forward to the upcoming challenges,” Paulson said.

The past couple of years have been busy for the School Board, as its members signed off on a new long-range facilities plan, voted to build a new elementary school in Ed Clapp Park, and add air conditioning and make other improvements at six more elementary schools.

But greater challenges may lie ahead.

Board members will face serious issues, particularly on long-term finances.

The board is likely to seek voter approval of a general fund mill levy at or near the current 139 mills. If it doesn’t, the district’s general fund property tax collections will be frozen for years under state law.

In March, the School Board asked district patrons to approve the current 139 general fund mills, plus 11 more for emergencies. Fifty-seven percent of voters rejected the request.

By state law, any school general fund levy above 70 mills must be approved by voters by the end of December 2015. If voters don’t approve that “excess mill levy,” the dollars taken in by that levy will be frozen until, over time, they equal the dollars collected by 70 mills as property values rise.

Administrators say if that happens, the district would lose $50 million in revenues over 10 years.

The Fargo Education Association, the union that represents most of the school district’s teachers, urged its members to support one of the incumbents – Goldenberg – but in a conspicuous snub, not Boyd.

The other candidates endorsed by the nearly 900-member union were Kamel, Martin, Paulson and Benson.

Knutson had 5,869 votes, followed by Boyd at 5,425, Benson at 5,136, Goldenberg at 4,421, and Paulson at 4,320.

Martin had 4,108 votes, Dahms had 3,767, Livingood had 3,259, Anderson had 3,140, Kamel had 2,666 and James had 2,280.

There were 138 write-in votes.

In all, 44,529 votes were cast in the race.

Three board incumbents, Kris Wallman, Rick Steen and Rusty Papachek, did not seek re-election.

School Board members are elected to four-year terms. They are paid $12,000 per year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583