Williston, Williams County school boards meet in Bismarck

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BISMARCK, N.D. - After failing to pass a bond measure for new schools a third time in a year, the pressure was on in Bismarck for Williston District 1 and Williams County 8 to have a productive meeting about overcrowding in the region.

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Both sides are fighting for different scenarios each want to exist. District 8 surrounding Williston wants to have their own voice for education. District 1 in Williston needs more room and more money to accommodate all the students, including District 8 high school students.

There was tension, but both sides sat through the whole meeting and seem committed to finding some sort of solution. In that regard, the meeting was successful. But area lawmakers stressed the severity and uniqueness of the situation.

“District 1 is an anomaly and it's an anomaly that heading towards disaster,” said Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston.

Bekkedahl says the state's position on using property taxes for new schools works for everyone but his home district, a point District 1 School Board President Joanna Baltes agrees with.

"There's a huge disparity between what our residents in northwest North Dakota have to pay to build a school. So when we have to go to the voters and say we need 60 percent approval rate to actually build a school, we can't get it done," said Baltes.

District 8 board members say the message from their voters is clear.

"Go big and don't come back to me in two years and tell me you've got to build another dang school,” said Curtis Sullivan, District 8 school board member.

They're still trying to educate voters before their May 14 vote, which could build two new elementary schools and the first high school in that district.

"We are addressing all those issues. It's just, as you know, we've got to get bonds passed in order to make that happen,” said Rob Turner, District 8 superintendent.

Baltes says the districts should combine forces and work together on the high school side.

"It's going to take you guys five years to get to the point where you can levy fully operationally. Even then with the number of students you have, 200-300 high school students, there's no way that can compare to the opportunities that your students have already had for decades,” said Baltes.

Separate options are running low for the two districts, making cooperation their best hope.

"It's working together as just us and us. So let's get this figured out,” said Williston Mayor Howard Klug.

Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and Gov. Doug Burgum also sat in on the meeting.