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No debating, but still reservations about D-G-F bond vote

GLYNDON, Minn. - More than 100 residents showed up at the high school theater Tuesday night at the first of seven informational meetings planned leading up to the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District's $31.46 million school bond referendum Nov. 3.

D-G-F School Superintendent Bryan Thygeson presents information on projected enrollment and student-teacher ratios as district officials hold Tuesday evening, Sept. 22, 2015, at DGF High School. Dave Wallis / The Forum

GLYNDON, Minn. – More than 100 residents showed up at the high school theater Tuesday night at the first of seven informational meetings planned leading up to the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District's $31.46 million school bond referendum Nov. 3.

Superintendent Bryan Thygeson asked attendees to save their questions for individual question- and-answer sessions in the high school commons, saying that the informational sessions should remain informational, not confrontational.

"This is not a forum for vote no, vote yes arguments," Thygeson said. "It isn't debate night; the polls will tell us that (who won)."

Thygeson ran the group through some of the basics of the vote: the need for a new school and additions to the current school with a focus on growing enrollment; the costs; the tax impacts on homes; and how planning would proceed if the vote were to pass.

But even as polite applause closed out the first part of the info session, several in the audience said they had issues with the presentation and the proposed plan.


Glyndon farmer Jared Johnson said he would have preferred a more traditional question-and- answer format so that everyone in the auditorium could air their concerns together.

"Maybe they're scared of some of the questions?" Johnson sad. "I'd like to hear other people's questions."

Troy Kuehl, a Dilworth area farmer, said he was disappointed that Thygeson didn't spend more time talking about the tax impacts for farmland. And, he said there wasn't enough community input into shaping the construction proposal.

"I don't feel so good about it. There wasn't a lot of input from the community. They could save a lot of money by building (a proposed early childhood center) in Glyndon, where they have the land" and the infrastructure to support it," Kuehl said.

If the referendum passes, school property taxes on farmland would vary, from $6 an acre on homesteaded land to $10 ot $11 an acre on nonhomesteaded land, Thygeson said.

Property taxes on a $150,000 house would rise about $242 the first year. The average home value is about $175,000 in the district, which would mean a tax increase of just under $300 a year, Thygeson said.

"I'm not convinced that it's the right plan for our community," said Robbin Taves of Glyndon. "I think there's a lot of questions in the land in Dilworth."

Taves said there's still a possibility of a land swap between D-G-F and the Moorhead School District that may help both districts.


"Are we doing this too quick?" Taves asked.

If the measure passes, the district is planning to build an Early Childhood Center in Dilworth at a cost of $17.4 million; make security and safety renovations and expand D-G-F High School and Glyndon-Felton Elementary School for $7.4 million; make security and safety renovations and add on to Dilworth Elementary and the Middle School for $4.77 million; and relocate and expand the baseball fields for $1.43 million. Bonding costs are expected to be $460,000.

The district opened its doors to 1,641 students this fall, up 55 from last fall. It estimates there will be 1,939 students by the 2021-22 school year.

Nearly one-third of D-G-F students come through open enrollment, with 546 open-enrolling as of fall 2014, the district said in referendum materials. That's nearly twice the 232 students who open-enrolled into D-G-F in 2010.

Thygeson said the district will see a real space crunch by the fall of 2017 unless more classroom space is built.

Space is already tight in the high school he said.

At lunch, "it's wall to wall people. This isn't a potential future need, it's packed now," Thygeson said.

The larger elementary school grades will soon move into middle school and high school, exacerbating the problem, he said.


"This has been coming for awhile. We've been trying to maximize our efficiencies, but now we're at this point," Thygeson said.

Thygeson said if the plan is put into effect, it will create enough space in the high school that it can take in another 160 to 170 students and should be good for 15 to 17 years.

The Q&A sessions featured referendum finance and construction experts, as well as five of the seven school board members and district administrators to field questions.

Tracy Tollefson, D-G-F's director of community education and public outreach, urged people to keep decorum in mind.

"We're all here and we all have passion for DGF ... we all have a voice," Tollefson said. "Keep in mind, that once the vote is over, you're still going to have to look at that teacher, that neighbor, that child."

And the session appeared to go well, as small knots of people formed around the experts and some people drifted from one group to another.

Linda Bakken, who owns three child-care centers in the area, was worried that the creation of a preschool center would cut into her business and force her to raise prices for taking care of younger children so she could make ends meet.

"It's going to cost parents money and hurt providers," she said. Bakken said parents may be thinking they could save $700 a month with a preschool center, but they'd have to pay more for their younger children if she is to make a living providing child care.


Bakken added that at 20 4-year-olds per classroom, the 150 to 170 children expected in the early childhood center would requiring hiring eight teachers at a time in which Minnesota is experiencing a teacher shortage.

School Board President Jeremy Bladow said he liked the Q&A format that was tried Tuesday.

"We value input from everybody," Bladow said. "So far it seems to be working pretty good.

Bladow said he's confident that the referendum will pass.

"They have never ceased to amaze me the amount of support" D-G-F School District residents have, he said.

He said he's heard complaints from people that have said that the referendum will raise taxes too high, while others say that the district really needs to think bigger and build a new high school.

He said the board went with the current plan to be fiscally responsible.

"I'm a strong proponent of strong public schools and a strong community," Bladow said. "You can't have one without the other."


The second meeting will be held starting at 7 tonight in the gymnasium of D-G-F Middle School, 108 N. Main, Dilworth.

The third meeting will be 7 p.m. Sept. 30 back at the high school.

Four other meetings are planned in October, including one in Felton.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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