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West Fargo school officials taking a deep breath

Defeated by its failed school referendum vote, West Fargo school officials said Wednesday they won't make any decisions about how to house its increasing student population for several weeks.

Tom Gentzkow
West Fargo School Board president

Defeated by its failed school referendum vote, West Fargo school officials said Wednesday they won't make any decisions about how to house its increasing student population for several weeks.

"We're just going to take a deep breath and take a sigh," West Fargo School Board President Tom Gentzkow said Wednesday morning after the board approved the election results. "We've been immersed in this for over a year."

Two likely options to deal with projected overcrowding at several West Fargo school include adding portable classrooms and leasing space. Here's a glimpse at those options:

Portable classrooms

If the district doesn't exceed the expected 300 additional students it will receive in the fall, it won't need to buy portable classrooms for this fall, Superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace said.

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But if the district gets another 475 or so students, there would be an urgent need for more room, she said.

Regardless, the district is looking at purchasing portable classrooms starting in 2010 to keep pace with increased student enrollment. A six-classroom portable unit would cost the district an estimated $500,000.

"We'll have to see what happens this fall," Diesel Wallace said.

Leasing space

A second option for already overcrowded Aurora Elementary, Cheney Middle and West Fargo High School is leasing space elsewhere, Diesel Wallace said.

Of the five largest school districts in the state, West Fargo remains the only one with one high school building.

Minot, the fifth largest, has one high school but two campuses - one for grades 9-10 and the other for grades 11-12.

The other large districts have at least two high school buildings.

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Disappointing result

West Fargo school officials thought the public would accept a second high school in the growing city.

Instead, what was possibly the largest building project West Fargo voters have had to consider, failed.

Of the 4,538 ballots, 51.3 percent voted "yes" while 48.7 percent voted "no." The district needed 60 percent approval for the referendum to pass.

Diesel Wallace called the voter participation a "light turnout - not atypical for a school election."

Only 21.5 percent of the 21,074 active School District voters turned out to vote for the $65 million referendum.

The result was a disappointing end for officials who invested more than a year of planning and about $12,000 on the election.

They spent an estimated $6,000 paying for election officials and $5,000 to print and mail fliers containing information about the referendum to voters. In addition, an estimated $952 to $1,190 of two staff members' time was spent putting together the fliers.

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The school buildings referendum was the first in recent years to fail.

In 2002, 3,681 district residents voted for a $31 million school building referendum, passing it by 89.7 percent. And in 2005, 2,407 residents voted on the district's $27 million bond, passing it by 83 percent.

Those elections were held in February and March.

"Originally, we were trying to have it during the school year," Diesel Wallace said.

Instead, the referendum that was initially slated for May was delayed due to flooding. And School Board members didn't want to wait to hold the election until school started this fall because it would push the building projects back another year.

According to state law, the district can hold another referendum election in three months, but West Fargo officials wouldn't speculate if they will do that.

Diesel Wallace said Tuesday night that district officials will have to ask the public if they did enough to win people's favor in advance of the election.

"Was it too complicated?" she said of the multiple building projects on the ballot. "The needs of the buildings are still there. The kids keep coming."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515

Related Topics: WEST FARGO
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