Frequently Asked Questions
What happened to the listening sessions at the Ws and Valley that were supposed to happen before the end of the year to hear parents' concerns?
Informational presentations at several schools were included in a draft communications plan. Due in part to continuing COVID-19 protocol (limiting visitors in the schools) and the timing of COVID-19 vaccinations available to the greater Grand Forks community, this tactic was not carried out. A presentation was recorded and posted to the GFPS Referendum webpage and can be found at https://www.gfschools.org/Page/9403.
A Facebook livestream has been scheduled for Thursday, June 17 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. that will allow for community engagement.
Where is the link to the survey that was sent out to the public to respond?
The survey is available at https://tinyurl.com/GFPS-Survey2021. The survey was active from Friday, February 19, 2021 through Friday, March 5, 2021 and was shared using a variety of methods: email, social media, smartphone app push notification, video announcements, school/district websites, and a news release to local news media. The Grand Forks Herald included a story regarding the survey on/about February 26.
When your survey had such a low response rate, how can you claim that the community supports consolidation efforts and the referendum? Your sample size was not representative of Grand Forks.
The community task force made its recommendation prior to a survey being distributed in early 2021. Survey data was shared with the Grand Forks School Board in their final workshop on March 8, 2021 to help inform their decision-making.
Survey responses were one set of data used to determine moving forward with a referendum on June 22, 2021. Other data used to inform decision making was the school system’s strategic plan, Marzano high-reliability schools framework, enrollment analysis from the school system demographer, long-range facility information (maintenance needs, return-on-investment projects, engineering input, state requirements/building code), resource planning (short- and long-term financial outlook), city of Grand Forks development information, etc.
I thought the district wasn't allowed to encourage people to vote yes on the referendum. The logo sure looks like it's telling people to vote for the referendum... Are you confident that the district would withstand a legal challenge?
The logo shares the date of the referendum election and encourages residents to vote. It does not encourage individuals to vote in a certain matter.
Has SitelogIQ ever not recommended that a new school be built? By hiring them to lead the task force, hadn't you already decided what you wanted?
SitelogIQ did not make any recommendations regarding consolidation, new schools, etc. A community task force was assembled in spring 2020 to make recommendations to the Grand Forks School Board. The school system has utilized community task forces in the past to review data and provide recommendations regarding the use of facilities. The most recent task force brought forward several recommendations, which included a bond referendum in the amount of $90 million to address immediate needs and a progressive increase of the building fund levy of two mills per year for five years to address ongoing maintenance needs. Through a series of Grand Forks School Board workshops and activities, the School Board determined the referendum bond and levy amounts that will appear on the ballot.
I just saw the new logo on social media. How can you call yourself "community-driven" when the neighborhoods don't want to combine Wilder and Winship?
The community task force included individuals from across the city of Grand Forks, including those in the Wilder and Winship attendance areas. The Task Force provided several recommendations to the school board, one of which was to build a new consolidated elementary/middle school at the current Valley Middle School site to include all students currently attending West, Wilder, and Winship elementary schools, as well as Valley Middle School. A new central kitchen would be constructed as part of this project due to space needs for the K-8 campus.
A survey was conducted in early 2021 regarding several recommendations of the Task Force. In the 1,530 responses received, approximately 63% support consolidation. When looking at respondents who self-identified living in a neighborhood with a zip code of 58203, approximately 48% indicated they would support consolidation.
What steps did the district take to solicit input from the families affected by combining Wilder, Winship, and West? Is there data that can be made public about the support (or lack of support) by those families?
In the fall of 2019, Grand Forks Public Schools held six facility presentations (five in-person, one virtual), including at Wilder Elementary School and Valley Middle School, to solicit feedback from residents. An online portal (ThoughtExchange) was used to share information and review themes, opportunities, and concerns.
In the winter of 2020, the school system asked community members, including parent(s)/guardian(s) at West, Winship, and Wilder, to apply for the Facility Task Force, which explored and identified long-range facility needs and financial implications. Several north-end residents participated as members of the Task Force.
Grand Forks Public Schools also launched a facility improvement community-wide survey in February-March 2021 to collect feedback from the community on Task Force recommendations.
Additional communication has taken place with families at West Elementary following the Task Force’s recommendation to replace the school as renovation is no longer an option.
The superintendent and his leadership team will hold listening sessions at Wilder, Winship, Valley, and West schools before the end of the school year to hear concerns.
I had heard Lewis & Clark was going to be closed. Is that accurate?
The Facility Task Force presented several recommendations to the Grand Forks School Board, which included a consideration to close/consolidate Lewis & Clark Elementary School. However, that recommendation has not been discussed by the Grand Forks School Board at this time.
I do not find any information on how the proposed expanded Valley K-8 school will impact traffic patterns and counts in the local neighborhood. Was the city consulted, or any transportation expertise sought on this (I am not asking about school bus service)? The primary individuals at the consulting firm do not appear to have any expertise in this.
The City of Grand Forks planning department and a traffic engineering firm have discussed at a very high level the proposed changes. Prior to the completion of a schematic design for the campus, there would be a traffic study of the area. A traffic engineering study was included in the scope of services shared with prospective architectural firms for the proposed K-8 campus.
What will happen to the current athletic fields at Valley Middle School with this proposed expansion?
The suggestion of the K-8 Campus Pre-design committee is to move the current athletic fields to the East part of the property, where the current Valley Middle School building is located. The elementary school and middle school would be built on the West part of the property (where the current athletic fields are located), and the central kitchen (currently located on the Northeast corner of the property) would move to the district office.
I am under the assumption that the plan to consolidate the North End Schools will proceed even if the bonding bill is voted down. Is that correct?
That has not been discussed by Grand Forks Public Schools. West Elementary School is the only school discussed and approved by the Grand Forks School Board to be taken offline at this time.
What plans does the district have for the Wilder, West, and Winship school buildings if they are consolidated?
That is yet to be determined. It is the intent of Grand Forks Public Schools administration to sell the buildings/parcels of land for residential development, ideally affordable housing. The cost of building demolition was included in the $86 million bond package, in the event the buildings are not able to be sold.
It really feels like the district doesn't care that this town wants neighborhood schools. At what point do you acknowledge your duty to honor the wishes of the community who elected you (school board) and pays your salaries (district)?
District administration believes all schools throughout our school system are neighborhood schools. The definition of a neighborhood school varies from person to person and is dependent on individual beliefs and values. One individual may define a neighborhood school by its existence within a residential neighborhood, while another may view a neighborhood school as a student attending a school that is within the predetermined attendance boundaries.
Please consider reaching out to a Grand Forks School Board member (directory listing: https://www.gfschools.org/domain/11) and sharing your concerns directly with our elected officials.
Why is the district trying to consolidate the North-end elementary schools against the wishes of the families at those schools? Couldn't Winship and Wilder be fixed up for less than the cost of building a new mega-school?
Grand Forks Public Schools has utilized community task forces to review data and provide recommendations to the Grand Forks School Board regarding the use of facilities. The most recent Task Force brought forward several recommendations, which included building a new K-8 campus for West, Wilder, and Winship elementary schools and Valley Middle School.
The combined current enrollment of West, Winship, and Wilder elementary schools is approximately 426, which would make its enrollment the 4th largest elementary school in the school system.
How big are expected class sizes at the combined Winship/Wilder?
An estimated number of students at a combined West/Wilder/Winship elementary school, including continuing as an English Language magnet school, would equate to the fourth largest elementary school in Grand Forks, only 15-30 students larger than Lake Agassiz Elementary School. We would be able to maintain similar class sizes as those at J Nelson Kelly, Discovery, Century, and Lake Agassiz elementary schools. It would depend on the total number of students at each grade level and the number of sections needed.
It sounds like the Grand Forks student enrollment in the past 25 years has been reduced by almost 1/3. In the past 25 years, has the number of students with special needs in the district increased dramatically (physical, emotional, New Americans, etc.)? Can you show the comparison of numbers from 1995 to 2020?
Grand Forks Public Schools recent peak enrollment occurred in 1995 and was 9,898 students. The present enrollment is approximately 7,300.
Students receiving special education services have increased. For example, the number of students receiving services on December 1, 2015 was 1,064. On December 1, 2020, that figure grew to 1,396, for an increase of 332 students. During the 2019-2020 school year, 18.5% of students throughout the school system were on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Our Special Education Department provides a variety of related services within each school building to meet the needs of every child with a disability, including adaptive physical education, assistive technology, audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, school psychology, selective screenings, and speech and language. Additional information was shared with the task force regarding special education services at the meeting on April 23, 2020.
For students in our English Language program, one identified way of improving the delivery of services was the creation of magnet campuses at each of the school levels (e.g., elementary, middle, high schools) for efficiency purposes. Currently, we have four magnet campuses: Century Elementary School, Winship Elementary School, South Middle School, and Red River High School. The number of students identified with limited English proficiency and/or identified as an immigrant (individuals who are aged 3-21; were not born in any State; and have not been attending one or more schools in any one or more states for more than three full academic years) and/or refugee (an individual who flees their country to seek protection from that country) varies from year-to-year. For the 2019-2020 school year, 342 students had limited English proficiency, 347 were defined as immigrants, and 192 defined as refugees. Again, these numbers vary.
There is a monthly tax impact of $8.23 per $100,000 assessed value for the building projects bond. How long will that tax impact be in place? (how long is the bond and does the tax increase expire when the bond does)
The bond would be for 20 years. The Building Fund mill rate would be determined by the Grand Forks School Board when they approve their annual budget by October 10. The mill levy would not expire.
If the bond doesn't pass what kind of cuts and/or closures will result either in the immediate or in a couple years? Will a school or two possibly still end up closing?
Without the Building Fund increases and bond referendum passing, Grand Forks Public Schools would need to initiate additional budget cuts, which would include eliminating more staff positions, freezing salaries, ceasing purchases, charging additional fees for athletics and activities, etc. This would be over and above the $3.9 million in cuts implemented for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and the estimated $4-5 million in cuts the following year.
Closing a school or two has not been discussed by Grand Forks Public Schools. West Elementary School is the only school discussed and approved by the Grand Forks School Board to be offline at this time.
What is the operational cost savings for building a new elementary school vs updating Winship and Wilder?
Grand Forks Public Schools will save a minimum of $750,000 per year with the closure of West Elementary School. Cost savings for Wilder and Winship elementary schools would depend on several yet to be determined factors. For example, adding transportation routes.
The cost avoidance of planned projects that would need to occur at West, Winship, and Wilder elementary schools and Valley Middle School within the next 20-25 years was estimated at $47.7 million.
Is there not Covid Relief money available for certain things? HVAC, etc? Why not utilize some of that money as it is free money!
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction has shared guidelines for the use of “Covid Relief (i.e. ESSER II and III funds) by school systems in the state of North Dakota, the majority of which are centered around teaching and learning. Specifically, 20% of ESSER III expenditures must address learning loss and mental health.
All expenditures must be submitted for reimbursement. Any projects/items submitted that do not meet the criteria would not be reimbursed and the school system would incur the cost.
Grand Forks Schools deferred maintenance as it relates to HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) is a large undertaking and is much more than the ESSER funding the school system is scheduled to receive. HVAC projects at several schools, such as Ben Franklin and Viking elementary schools, cost nearly $5 million, with HVAC projects at other schools nearly $10 million, such as Elroy Schroeder and Valley middle schools.
If the district knew that a financial crisis was approaching, why didn't they ask for a mill increase sooner?
North Dakota’s economy is largely driven by agriculture and crude oil production. Both of these areas have experienced dramatic revenue declines in the past several years, leaving less revenue for per pupil aid funding. Per pupil aid payments were flat from 2017-2019, a 2% increase in 2020, a 2% increase in 2021, and a potential for a 1% increase in each of the next two years, which is dependent on a vote by the North Dakota Legislature.
Many of the mechanical systems that were put into place following the flood of 1997 - for example, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) - are now at the end of their life and need to be replaced.
A larger reliance on per pupil funding from the state and small increases in per pupil funding over several years, coupled with routine maintenance costs and higher supply costs have led to this current financial situation.
Winship and Wilder have some of the lowest deferred maintenance costs in the district. Combined, the amounts are less than 5 other schools each need. Why are they being targeted for consolidation?
By housing both of the aforementioned schools, along with West Elementary School and Valley Middle School, under the same roof, but structured in a way that clearly delineates the elementary school from the middle school, the district would likely realize a 3-section elementary school within this campus. This structure would create equity from the ability to moderate class sizes so we don’t have classrooms of 27 nor classrooms of 12, which has happened at some of our smaller schools. Teaching specialists such as music, physical education, world languages, and library media specialists, all tied to release time for teacher preparation, would be more stationary than mobile between schools. Ongoing professional development under our Professional Learning Community and Multi-Tiered Support Systems for both academic and social-emotional model creates more opportunities between grade level teachers. Additionally, with a K-8 campus, there is an opportunity for tremendous student, staff, and parent/guardian synergy and school culture where students experience a nine-year career at this proposed campus.
The district mismanaged money in the past leading to this situation. How can we trust that you won't mismanage the $86 million since there are still so many of the same board members on the school board?
The administration at Grand Forks Public Schools will recommend to the Grand Forks School Board the creation of a Bond Oversight Committee. The committee would consist of residents of Grand Forks and would meet on a to-be-determined basis throughout the length of the bond. Grand Forks Public Schools leadership would present information to the committee regarding expenditures related to the bond. This process allows for community input and would keep all involved accountable to the intent of the bond as it has been presented to the community.
Is the district prepared to come back with a more modest proposal if the $86 million bond fails?
Grand Forks Public Schools has utilized community task forces to review data and provide recommendations to the Grand Forks School Board regarding the use of facilities. The most recent task force brought forward several recommendations, which included a bond referendum in the amount of $90 million to address immediate needs and a progressive increase of the building fund levy of two mills per year for five years to address ongoing maintenance needs. Through a series of Grand Forks School Board workshops and activities, the School Board determined the referendum bond and levy amounts.
Why are you firing so many teachers right now, and then also trying to convince people to give you money to build a school you don’t really need? Just ask for enough to build a new Valley and maybe people would see the need for that.
Building and mechanical-related issues have led to multiple years of deficit spending from the General Fund. The Finance Committee of the Grand Forks School Board asked the district administration to cut approximately 10% of expenditures from the General Fund budget over two years, beginning with the 2021-2022 budget. A variety of expenditures are included in the recommended cuts, which begins on page 81 of the Grand Forks School Board April 12th agenda. The administration presented the recommended budget cuts to the Grand Forks School Board at its meeting on April 12, which were approved by the School Board.
Why can’t you just fix Wilder and Winship? They have very low repair needs, completely covered by the CARES Act money. It is a waste to close good schools that students can walk to.
We are waiting for guidance from North Dakota regarding how federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II funds and ESSER III funds can be expended. We have been allocated approximately $8.2 million in ESSER II funds and approximately $18.5 million in ESSER III funds. Twenty percent of ESSER III funds must be used to address learning loss and mental health. We need to know more about how those funds can be spent before making any determinations, as we are unable to submit expenditures for reimbursement at this time.
Why didn't the board have referendums for the recent major additions and the new school (Discovery Elementary)?
The North Dakota Legislature voted to terminate the authority to levy unlimited mills after the tax year 2015. At that time, Grand Forks Public Schools had an unlimited general fund mill levy. Under state law, voters must approve an increase in the mill levy. This is why the Grand Forks School Board has called for a referendum on June 22, 2021.
Participants at the School Board Public Forum in 2010 discussed facility needs and identified potential projects, which included a new theater addition at Red River High School and a theater remodel/expansion and addition for rehearsal at Grand Forks Central High School. An Organizational Analysis Study completed in April 2010 suggested proceeding with several capital building projects, including those described above.
The Demographic Task Force in February 2012 recommended to the Grand Forks School Board to build a new elementary school on the south end of Grand Forks to relieve capacity pressure at Century and J Nelson Kelly elementary schools.
Is it too late to change the bond amount?
The wording on the resolution for the bond states, “The maximum amount of bonds proposed to be issued is $86,000,000.” Therefore, the final bond amount cannot exceed $86 million, but it could be less.
What would you say to people who think the district is asking for too much money and that the elementary schools shouldn't be consolidated?
That is a great question, one that brings forward the varied emotions regarding building consolidation.
Grand Forks Public Schools has utilized community task forces to review data and provide recommendations to the Grand Forks School Board regarding the use of facilities. The most recent Task Force met over 60 hours between March-December 2020. The group brought forward several recommendations, which included closing West Elementary School and Valley Middle School as renovation is no longer a viable option. They also made several other recommendations, which included building a new K-8 campus for West, Wilder, and Winship elementary schools and Valley Middle School.
As members of the Task Force shared with the Grand Forks School Board in December, they conducted their work with open minds to look at the research and data, and at the same time, did not have preconceived ideas to close, consolidate, or open a school. Through their work, they ultimately came to a consensus on the recommendations they shared with the Grand Forks School Board.
Regarding the amount of the bonds and levy, there are several factors important to note:
- Facility issues are the driving factor. When excluding facility maintenance costs, Grand Forks Public Schools is living within the current financial structure.
- An additional 10 mills in the Building Fund would generate approximately $2.5 million more in property tax revenue annually. This will get our facilities back on track and avoid these same circumstances moving forward.
- Additional Building Fund revenue would allow for General Fund dollars to be reallocated to provide more competitive compensation to attract, develop, and retain quality staff.
- Another important factor is the ability to bring in revenue. In 2013, the North Dakota Legislature took on a higher portion of the school district and county funding. Approximately 65% of General Fund Revenue currently comes from the state of North Dakota. Per pupil aid payments were flat from 2017-2019, a 2% increase in 2020, a 2% increase in 2021, and a potential for a 1% increase in the next two years, which is dependent on a vote by the North Dakota Legislature.
- If you were to compare Grand Forks against the largest school systems in North Dakota (Bismarck, West Fargo, Fargo, Minot), Grand Forks:
- Spends the most on capital project expenses from the General Fund proceeds,
- Has the highest maintenance costs per student,
- Has the smallest Building and Sinking Fund Mill Levies,
- Receives significantly less overall local property tax.
- We continue to look at a variety of funding sources to reduce the local tax impact, including grants/rebates, federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, and self-funding energy projects (ex: LED lighting, digital controls, etc.).
Now that the ESSER funds are expected, is the district willing to rethink its ask of the community? The bond amount seems really excessive considering that the Winship and Wilder neighborhoods do not want a consolidated school.
Yes, it is possible for the $86 million bond amount to be reduced. We are waiting for guidance from North Dakota regarding how ESSER II and ESSER III can be expended. We are unable to submit any expenditures for reimbursement at this time. We need to know more about how those funds can be spent before making any changes.
Why wasn't ArtWise contacted and asked about program reductions they could make before cutting the whole Artist in the Classroom program?
This question is not related to the referendum, but we can provide insight. The ArtWise Program was included on a list of $4.3 million in budget reductions for the 2021-2022 school year. As the list was finalized by district and school administrators, Associate Superintendent of Elementary Education Jody Thompson met with ArtWise to share this information. Mr. Thompson and a principal liaison also met with ArtWise leadership in a subsequent meeting. The Finance Committee of the Grand Forks School Board has encouraged ArtWise leadership to present ideas, look for grants, etc. prior to the Grand Forks School Board meeting on April 12th.
We know this is a popular program for many. In determining cuts to make, administrators paid close attention to requirements under the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, and it was noted that art is not a requirement. That said, the school system will retain art in our elementary schools with instruction provided by teachers and/or instructional paraprofessionals.
Why is the district only asking for mills for the building fund and not also the general fund? Wouldn't that mean fewer layoffs?
Issuing $86 million in general obligation bonds will reduce capital expenditures pressure on the General Fund. The mills tied to the $86 million referendum would be limited to paying principal and interest on the loans. Building and mechanical-related issues have led to multiple years of deficit spending from the General Fund. The Finance Committee of the Grand Forks School Board asked the district administration to cut approximately 10% of expenditures from the General Fund budget over two years, beginning with the 2021-2022 budget. The administration will present approximately $4.3 million in recommended budget cuts to the Grand Forks School Board at its meeting on April 12.
How many of the people currently on the board have been around long enough to have been there when all the mismanagement occurred? Why should the public trust the school board and their sketchy consulting firm about this?
Please reach out to a Grand Forks School Board member (directory listing: https://www.gfschools.org/domain/11) and share your concerns directly with our elected officials. They would be able to more directly respond to any concerns regarding School Board decisions.
If passed, will the immediate increase be 32+% in taxes?
No. A mill rate increase relates to taxable value, not assessed value. Property owners in Grand Forks can use the Tax Impact Calculator on the Referendum Tax Information page to estimate the tax impact on their residential or commercial property.
Can you please explain what the bullet point: "Addresses student equity" means? (pg. 2 of pdf.) Equality means equal opportunity - while equity mean equal outcomes. Will "Critical Race Theory" be required to be incorporated because of the funding sources?
The Task Force looked at student equity in terms of the total cost per student at a school, the amount of square footage per student at a school, utility costs per square foot at a school, and percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch per school. Two specific examples of student equity would be all students having access to the same physical areas of the school (compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA) and air quality.
Critical Race Theory is not part of this work. The funding source of both questions on the referendum is local taxpayers.
What has the national and state HS rankings changed over the last decade plus?
This question is difficult to answer in part due to the shift from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and compounded by a waiver from the US Department of Education from standardized testing during the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information for schools and school systems in North Dakota is reported to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) on an annual basis and reported on https://insights.nd.gov/.
Will the district provide transportation for families affected by the school consolidation?
Chris Arnold, buildings and grounds director, has worked with a number of internal stakeholders on a study regarding transportation. It is our intention to review this work and to commission a committee to review transportation throughout the entire school system, including West, Winship, and Wilder elementary schools.
Will the district have an answer to the question of whether or not transportation will be provided to students affected by the consolidation before the vote occurs on June 22nd?
As noted above, Chris Arnold, buildings and grounds director, has worked with a number of internal stakeholders on a study regarding transportation. It is our intention to review this work as soon as this calendar year and to commission a committee to review transportation throughout the entire school system, including West, Winship, and Wilder elementary schools and Valley Middle School. The work of that committee would not be complete by June 22.
School district administrators do believe there will be enough families to have a route created. The specifics of the route would not be determined until closer to the opening of the proposed K-8 campus, which would be several years away.
When will we know the answer to whether or not transportation will be provided for Wilder students? That is the one thing that would keep me from voting "yes" on the bond measure.
As noted above, school district administrators believe there will be enough families to have a new route created. The specifics of the route would not be determined until closer to the opening of the proposed K-8 campus, which would be several years away.
For those that live outside of the city (e.g. - Emerado), how will the referendum affect us as we get to choose between Larimore and Grand Forks for schooling? Can I vote?
Only eligible voters who reside within the Grand Forks School District #1 boundary lines will be able to vote on the referendum on June 22nd, 2021.
Can you vote yes for the mill levy increase but no for the $86 million bond, if you do want to support education but do not want to see consolidation? (Are there two separate questions on the ballot)
Yes, there are two separate questions on the ballot. The first is a bond for up to $86 million for school improvement projects. The second question is a 10-mill increase in the building fund.
Will there be mail-in ballots? Over what time frame?
Yes, there will be mail-in/absentee ballots available no later than 40 days in advance of election day, or 46 days for members of the military. Please visit our Voting webpage for more information: https://www.gfschools.org/domain/1642.
I am out of town on June 22nd, is that the only day we are able to vote? Can we early vote or absentee vote on this issue?
Absolutely! Please visit our Voting webpage for more information: https://www.gfschools.org/domain/1642.
If the district can’t legally encourage people to vote yes on the referendum, how is it legal for them to hire a company to organize and educate a “vote yes” committee?
Grand Forks Public Schools administration was notified and asked SitelogIQ on April 8, 2021 to cease any involvement related to any “vote yes” activities they were involved in.
If the referendum fails in June, how soon can it go up for a vote again?
There is not a defined time limit. At this time, the only referendum being discussed is the one on June 22, 2021.