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BCN bond issue to return: Voters in the school district will again decide whether to build a new school in Leal area

Voters in the Barnes County North Public School District will go to the polls for the second time in seven months to decide a school bond issue.

An election has been scheduled for April 19 on a $14.5 million bond issue to build a centralized school. The same issue failed on Sept. 20 when it received just less than 50 percent of the vote. It needed a 60 percent majority to pass.

At issue is whether to build a single school building campus near the center of the school district and combine the operations of schools located at Wimbledon-Courtenay, Rogers and Spiritwood. The new central school would be located west of Leal along Highway 9.

"We decided on another vote on the issue because the timing seems to be right," said Doug Jacobson, superintendent of Barnes County North. "The dollar amount is the same but we have specified the location in the issue although it is the same as was planned earlier."

A second vote on the issue isn't popular with all residents.

"Some people don't give up," said Greg Mueller of Dazey. "They feel it's the best option but there are people that don't feel that way. If they get the right info out it could swing a few votes but it could be a harder sell to others."

Mueller had proposed a grade school in Wimbledon and a remodel of the existing school at Rogers as a lower-cost option. His proposal was not acted on by the board during the meeting where the election was authorized.

"With declining enrollment it doesn't make sense to build a new school," he said.

Concern among the voters about where the new school would be built may have been a factor in the September election, according to Lori Carlson, School Board president. The board had publicized the planned location but it wasn't identified in the ballot measure.

"It may have made people a little leery," Carlson said. "We felt we had to get it in black and white."

Other than that change the board is relying on a stronger education effort to change the outcome.

"The last time the staff and School Board sat back too much," she said. "We need to stand behind what we feel we have to do."

The approach will also take on a more grassroots approach.

"We're going to make a real effort to get out to small groups," Jacobson said. "Almost a door-to-door approach if we need to. We need to answer the questions and get the info out there."

That effort will include the staff.

"The staff is supporting it at about 80 percent," he said. "We'll be relying on them to inform the people how it can be a great benefit in efficiencies and the potential for growth."

The efficiencies include reductions in staff but Jacobson said that factor would be tempered with eight staff members currently eligible for retirement.

Jacobson said the bond repayment amounts are slightly higher now than when the issue went to a vote in September due to the end of an interest free loan program. However, he feels the district can still cover the bond repayment costs by the cost reductions of running one school building rather than three.

In the September election the Wimbledon, Courtenay and Spiritwood areas supported the measure while the Rogers area voted by a margin of 282 for to 85 against.

Mueller said the election process has caused a rift among the communities which all have their own schools but operate under one school district.

"This has been quite the controversy," Mueller said. "It's tough to even discuss the issue with people from the other communities."

The election will contain two measures. Measure 1 approves the bond issue and Measure 2 raises the debt limit of the school district. Both must pass by 60 percent and both must pass for the project to move forward.

If the measures pass, construction could begin this summer if the bidding process moved smoothly, Jacobson said.

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at knorman@jamestownsun.com

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