WEST FARGO - Voters in the West Fargo School District overwhelmingly approved a bond referendum for a new high school, with 71 percent of voters approving the measure on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
The more than two dozen parents, community members and district staff broke into applause at the Leidel Education Center as Business Manager Mark Lemer said the district had reached its needed 60 percent of the vote to pass.
Voters passed the $106.9 million referendum, which will be used to build a third high school and middle school as well as additions to elementary schools, security upgrades and three artificial turf fields by a total of 71 percent or 4,224 yes votes to 1,751 no votes.
Superintendent Beth Slette, who said she prepared a speech for either result, said the approval was due to the work of those in the district.
“You people are the people who get stuff done and you got it done,” Slette said. “We can not forget to thank, with our biggest thanks, our community. Because when other communities say no, time and time again, our community said yes.”
The middle school and high school would be built on land the district owns near Horace, near 76th Avenue and Sheyenne Street.
The middle school would be built first and open in 2020, while the new high school would open a year later.
Lemer said the district and county officials did not have an updated count of the total eligible voters that live in the district. However, in 2015, 80 percent of 6,064 voters approved a $98.1 million bond. In 2011, 70 percent of 7,420 voters approved a bond referendum that helped pay for the expansion of what is now Sheyenne High School.
“We keep getting more people in the district, but less people voting,” Lemer said.
Voters agreed to the ballot language, which said the district will increase its mill levy of 44.9 mills by 16.4 mills. However, the levy would not actually go up that much due to debt the district will be paying off, plus an increase in new building and property values. Instead, the district expects the levy would increase by only 3.51 mills and that the mill levy would still continue to decline in the future.
The increase would be about $15.81 per $100,000 home, Lemer said. However, taxable value - which is set by the city or county each year - has been increasing and has caused some confusion for taxpayers.
The school board decided to ask voters to approve a referendum in order to keep up with the district’s fast-paced growth, especially in the middle and high school levels. Both Sheyenne High School and West Fargo High School will be over the combined capacity of 3,100 by 2021. Liberty Middle School is expected to be at capacity by next fall, with Cheney Middle School soon to follow.
The referendum includes money for these projects:
- $88.5 million for a new middle school with a capacity of 800 and high school with the capacity of 1,000.
- $3 million for Harwood gym addition and a secure entrance.
- $3 million for basic installation of artificial fields at all three high schools.
- $1.525 million for art and gifted classrooms at elementaries that do not have them.
- $2 million for general security upgrades such as remodeled entrances, camera systems and blue light systems.
- $2.1 million for secured entrances at the elementary schools that do not have them.
- $6.8 million for Horace addition to create a four-track school, or four classes for each grade.
The votes broke down as:
Harwood, 194 yes 139 no, 58 percent approved
Lutheran Church of the Cross, 1,034 yes, 525 no, 66 percent approved
Westside Elementary, 621 yes, 351 no, 64 percent approved
Scheels Arena in Fargo, 1,038 yes, 295 no, 78 percent
Triumph West Church 714 yes, 250 no, 74 percent approved
Horace Senior Center, 528 yes, 141 no, 79 percent approved
Absentee ballots 95 yes, 50 no, 65 percent approved