If the Fargo School Board moves ahead with plans to build a new middle school in far-south Fargo, then residents of the Fargo School District should vote on it. The board is looking at such a project at a cost of $52.6 million. School districts throughout North Dakota and Minnesota routinely hold referendums to approve school building projects. Except Fargo.

Why doesn’t Fargo hold such referendums? It all goes back to December 3, 1991. I was a reporter for WDAY-TV at that time, and I had the Fargo school beat. On that date, residents of the school district went to the polls to vote on building a new junior high school in Fargo. Such a school was desperately needed. The measure overwhelmingly passed. Thus, Discovery Junior High (now a middle school) was constructed.

However, unbeknownst to the voters, the wording of the referendum gave the school board permission to increase taxes by up to 11.4 mills, to build as many schools as it desired—without having to go back to the voters again. It was sneaky and dishonest. I wrote many stories before the junior high vote and interviewed several knowledgeable people pushing for a yes vote. None of them told me about the master plan to use this vote to build other schools. Likewise, I covered several public forums on the need for a new junior high and reasons for people to vote yes. In none of those forums, did any of the speakers mention they will use this referendum to build additional schools. I had no idea this was the meaning of that vote. Fargo voters were duped.

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Since that 1991 election, the school board has authorized the construction of several more elementary schools, a new middle school, and a new high school. All without public votes. I agree with the board’s decision to build those schools. They were needed. However, I strongly disagree with the process.

So, over the last 27 years, when Fargo School Board members have been asked why people have not been voting on various school building projects, the answer has usually been, “Because Fargo voters gave us the authority to do this.” That’s technically true, but basically false. Fargo voters did not knowingly give the board that authority. I have never found anyone who voted in that 1991 election, who realized he or she was giving the board that power.

Regardless of whether a public vote is required now, the board should hold one. It would be an act of good will. It forces the board to be informative to district residents and to be responsible to those who are paying for schools. Fargo residents support quality education. It’s time to get their approval for big projects.

  • I am confused as to how fill out the next census form. When it asks me what my race is, do I say I am a Caucasian or a North Dakotan?