Fargo Schools warns against measures
North Dakota education officials are encouraging voters to take a close look at what they say will be "devastating" effects to education improvement efforts if statewide Measures 1 and 2 pass Nov.
North Dakota education officials are encouraging voters to take a close look at what they say will be "devastating" effects to education improvement efforts if statewide Measures 1 and 2 pass Nov. 4.
The measures, which would direct how the state's oil trust fund money could be used and would offer millions in income tax cuts, could mean there is less money for state officials to go forward with education improvements, negatively affecting teachers, students and taxpayers.
That's why next week the Fargo School Board and the district's teachers union will release positions against the measures, urging voters not to approve them. The actions follow state school boards and teachers associations.
"I'm so passionate about these measures that I could not sit by and not say something," said Fargo School Board member Robin Nelson, who drafted the positions. "This is the time for education in North Dakota. And these two measures will stop it dead in its track."
Nelson was referring to Gov. John Hoeven's proposal to dedicate $300 million in property tax relief and $100 million for education. That money would come from the state's anticipated $1 billion-plus surplus.
The state Commission on Education Improvement - which includes legislators, the state superintendent of instruction and other education officials - has worked for two years to draft a bill for January's session that includes funding for programs ranging from aid for at-risk students to new teacher mentoring programs.
The plan, education officials say, is unprecedented for education in North Dakota.
"There's nothing even close to it in historical perspective," said Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, also on the education commission.
"We feel we have some catching up to do," added Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who is chairman of the commission. "We feel our schools can be stronger."
But, Dalrymple said, the measures would be a "serious setback" for those plans.
North Dakota Education Association President Dakota Draper, who also serves on the education commission, said the measures could affect schools across the state with possible cuts in educational programs and personnel.
Dan Huffman, an assistant superintendent for Fargo Schools, added that the consequences could be felt locally in hiring freezes or teachers' wages, and more maintenance projects could be referred.
Supporting the measures is a conservative watch dog group, the North Dakota chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
"We agree the state should fund education more," AFP's Dustin Gawrylow said. "(But) even if both measures pass, state funding will still be able to increase."
Gawrylow said it doesn't make sense for the state to take money and only then figure out how it's spent, adding that he pushes districts to better control costs first.
District officials argue they're already doing that, and add that the measures won't just negatively affect the classroom, but also how much school districts may have to ask from taxpayers.
"If either one of the measures is successful, it's going to have an impact on the state's ability to reduce property tax - and the school district's," Huffman said. "We can't lose this momentum."
Gawrylow said the income tax cuts offered by Measure 2 could return $400 million to North Dakota taxpayers in the next two years.
School officials say taxpayers will just have to decide what's more important - property or income taxes.
"The thing everybody has to get by Election Day is you can't have both," Dalrymple said. "It's going to be one or the other."
If Measure 2's proposed income tax cuts fail and the governor's plan passes, Flakoll said taxpayers could see a 30 percent reduction in property taxes because the state would have less money to offer landowners relief.
For Fargo schools, about
60 percent of its revenue comes from property taxes - $60 million total. If the proposed governor's plan is adopted, the state would replace $18 million of that - meaning a 70- to 80-mill reduction for Fargo taxpayers. For a $100,000 Fargo home, a 70-mill reduction would equal $315 less in property taxes a year.
"But it can't happen if the state money isn't there," Huffman added.
Education officials just hope their open opposition to Measures 1 and 2 will help convince voters that the measures will have serious impacts on the possibility for education improvement.
"If Measure No. 1 and Measure No. 2 pass, in my opinion, it would be devastating for education," said Draper, of the North Dakota Education Association. "We won't even be able to look at these (improvement plans). We'll just be trying to keep the doors open and the lights on."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515