Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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 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. Business Manager Scott J. Berge is working with the Grand Forks County Auditor on finalizing an agreement for the county to assist with the absentee ballot process. More information will be available soon.
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 see above for more information. As the process is finalized, we will add that information to this webpage.
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