Bond referendums failing across the state, what are next steps for schools?

Published: Oct. 3, 2019 at 3:42 PM CDT
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Several school districts across the state are looking to Plan B, or C, after bond referendums have failed.

The latest bond failures happened this week in New Salem-Almont and Cavalier. How are districts are working to overcome failing infrastructure and overcrowding, while balancing what taxpayers want?

Two other larger districts, Williston and Dickinson have both had multiple failed referendums this year. State superintendent Kirsten Baesler says it's important for all districts to work with their communities on solutions to the problems schools are facing.

Voters in the New Salem-Almont school district overwhelmingly voted no this week to a proposed $7.65 million bond that would add on to the elementary school, and renovate the high school. On the other side of the state in Cavalier, a $10.9 million referendum narrowly failed on Monday, receiving 57 percent yes votes, but needing a super-majority of 60 percent to pass.

“We need to make sure that we as educators are bringing in our family members, bringing in our community members to make them true partners in what they want for their school community as well,” Baesler said.

Baesler says it's important for the funding decisions for schools to remain in local hands. In districts like Dickinson and Williston, administrators say overcrowding is an issue, and in Dickinson educators say infrastructure is failing. District 8 in Williston saw a bond fail in May, while both District 1 in Williston and the Dickinson schools have had two fail since the beginning of the year.

Dickinson superintendent Shon Hocker told us last month they may have to look at using space at Dickinson State University to help with issues, while Williston's District 8 is working on temporary solutions like modular classrooms for the younger kids, and moving high school students into the building used for elementary students.

“I think it really is important the underlying theme there is for our school communities to work with the larger community as a whole to find out the best solution for those students within that area," Baesler said.

Baesler says it's important to empower each community to make decision, because the value of mills and how it will impact property owners varies in each district.

Baesler says if bonds are approved, the Bank of North Dakota offers a low interest loan to help those districts with costs. Superintendents have told us one of the big hurdles to overcome is the 60 percent super-majority that's needed to pass referendums. Baesler says that's a conversation that's been had between local school leaders and legislators, and administrators should continue talking with legislators about the issue.

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