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Open enrollment at D-G-F schools sparks taxing debate

DILWORTH - Students who open-enroll into Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District - now a third of total enrollment - provide $2.9 million more in net revenue than the district would otherwise have, Superintendent Bryan Thygeson said.

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A “Vote No” sign sits along Parke Avenue in Glyndon, Minn. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

DILWORTH – Students who open-enroll into Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District - now a third of total enrollment - provide $2.9 million more in net revenue than the district would otherwise have, Superintendent Bryan Thygeson said.

It's a windfall that helps the district operate efficiently and fund programs, he said.

But those extra bodies - all of whom, once accepted, must by state law be allowed to attend D-G-F schools until they graduate - are crowding the halls, Thygeson said.

The proposed space solution isn't cheap for the mostly rural district: a $31.46 million school construction plan up for a vote on Nov. 3.

That's made open enrollment a hot-button issue in the district.


Related: Opposition to $31.5 million DGF school bond vote: 'The price tag is a shock'

Tom Pavola, a retired truck driver from Glyndon, blames district officials for taking in Moorhead School District students.

"They (parents of open-enrolled children) ain't paying a thing. And it isn't costing Moorhead a dime. But they ain't telling us that," Pavola said. "They have to come up with something better than what they've got."

Abby Hanson, playing with her toddler son at Glyndon Park, agreed. Parents of the open-enrolled students "don't pay (D-G-F) taxes, and that doesn't seem fair," she said.

The district opened its doors with 1,641 students this fall. Thygeson estimated that of the 570 who are open-enrolled, more than 80 percent are from the Moorhead School District.

Thygeson said it would be hard to turn away people who have a Dilworth ZIP code, pay Dilworth city taxes and live a handful of blocks away from D-G-F schools. The people living in the Summerwood, Orchard Estates and Woodbridge subdivisions are only in the Moorhead School District because of boundary decisions made decades ago, he said.

That willingness to take in 464 Moorhead School District students in the 2013-14 school year by open enrollment put D-G-F at No. 14 in the state for transfers of students from one district to another, according to state Department of Education records. D-G-F also took in 16 students from other districts, including Hawley, Ulen-Hitterdal, Norman County West, Ada-Borup and Lake Park-Audubon.

In 2013-14, Moorhead accepted 100 D-G-F students through open enrollment, and 33 more from eight other districts combined.


State foundation aid dollars follow a student to whatever district they attend in Minnesota. Foundation aid for kindergarten through sixth-grade students is $5,948 per pupil this year. For students in grades seven through 12, who are more expensive to teach, the aid rises to $7,137 per pupil.

Thanks to an update in D-G-F's policies made a few years ago, any state dollars not used for direct education expenses can be used to pay down the debt for capital improvement projects, including the work planned in the Nov. 3 bond issue, Thygeson said.

If approved, the bond issue would pay for:

  • A $17.38 million pre-kindergarten through first-grade Early Childhood Center to be built in Dilworth.
  • Additions and renovations at Glyndon-Felton Elementary and D-G-F High School in Glyndon, $7.42 million.
  • Additions and renovations at Dilworth Elementary and D-G-F Middle School in Dilworth, $4.77 million.
  • Relocation and expansion of ballfields in partnership with the city of Dilworth, $1.43 million.
  • Bonding issuance and finance costs of $460,000.

D-G-F's open-enrolled students bring in $3.62 million in state aid. With all funding sources combined, including transportation aid, that rises to $4.54 million, the district reports.
Because D-G-F has fixed costs in its buildings, maintenance, utilities and staffing, Thygeson said it doesn't matter if the district takes in 50 or 500 students through open enrollment.

If the district didn't have 570 open-enrolled students, it would spend $1.64 million less for teachers, material, busing and technology, but it would not see the other $2.9 million in state funding that it has used for other capital projects and initiatives, Thygeson said.

"Our local taxes would be much higher to provide the same programming, the same student-teacher ratio, that we now have," Thygeson said.

D-G-F saw its first big wave of open enrollment between fall 2007 and fall 2008, when open enrollment went from 175 to 233, a jump of 58 students.

A wave of students has arrived in the last couple of years.


In 2010, D-G-F had 232 students open enroll. It jumped to 546 by fall 2014.

At the same time, resident student numbers dropped. In fall 2010, there were 1,127 resident students. By fall 2014, that had dropped to 1,036, a nearly 100-student decline.

Thygeson said the district can operate efficiently with consistent student-teacher ratios thanks to open enrollment.

In the last five years, D-G-F's student population has grown from 1,363 in fall 2010 to nearly 1,641 today. The district averages about 150 students per grade in kindergarten through grade five, and about 100 students per grade in grades nine through 12. As the younger students age, they will stress the available space in the middle and high schools, Thygeson said.

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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