School plan: Barnes County North considers centralizationVoters at Barnes County North will go to the polls Monday to decide if a new centralized school building will be constructed. The $14.5-million project would combine the separate school operations of North Central of Barnes, Wimbledon Courtenay and Spiritwood into one location just west of Leal on Highway 9.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
Voters at Barnes County North will go to the polls Monday to decide if a new centralized school building will be constructed. The $14.5-million project would combine the separate school operations of North Central of Barnes, Wimbledon Courtenay and Spiritwood into one location just west of Leal on Highway 9.
“The best thing we’re hearing is the people are getting the info so they can make an informed decision,” said Doug Jacobson, superintendent of the district. “Once they have the information they can judge and make an informed decision.”
Jacobson said the efficiencies of operating a single new facility as opposed to three older facilities will save the district an amount equal to the bond payments on the debt to construct the school.
“We’re looking at saving $1.12 million in operating expenses each year,” he said. “The bond payments will be $1.05 million so we’re in the same position tax wise if we build or don’t build, and in 20 years it’s paid for and we would be in a great position.”
However, some residents have concerns with the plan.
“The No. 1 issue is the number of students down the road doesn’t look promising,” said Greg Mueller of Dazey. “It’s hard to say but 15 years down the road we’re certainly looking at less students.”
Mueller said the decline in students could come before the debts are retired possibly leading to higher taxes on the district.
“In visiting with people a lot have a concern for increased taxes in the future,” he said. “If the situation changes we have the major expense of a new building and have to generate more revenue.”
Jacobson said the student population has been steady for the four years since the schools consolidated.
“We really have a good stable population and don’t anticipate any big changes,” he said. “But it’s frightening to predict, there is so much movement in our population now.”
Mueller said he would like to see the district consolidate operations to a single location for efficiency but would prefer they utilize the North Central of Barnes facility.
Jacobson said he understands those concerns.
“There seems to be a growing sense this is possible,” he said. “But on the other end people are emotionally attached to their schools and they have thoughts on how they’d like it to proceed. Some think the school should be in a community and some think they already have a site in North Central of Barnes. None of these thoughts or concerns is unreasonable.”
One of the strengths of the plan, according to Jacobson, is its central location within the district.
“We look at the info and we’re seeing cost savings and benefits,” he said. “And we have equal access from all corners of the district.”
Mueller sees the North Central of Barnes School as a compromise.
“It’s not going to be fair to everyone,” he said. “But the center of the district is only about 6 miles from the North Central school building.”
While they don’t agree on the project itself Mueller and Jacobson see the issue as an important one in the area.
“Our biggest concern is that everyone have a voice in this matter and be heard,” Jacobson said. “One hundred percent voter turnout would be great.”
Mueller expects a high turnout as well.
“There is a lot of interest in this,” he said. “I think we’ll have a lot of people going to the polls.”
The ballot includes two measures. One authorizes the issuance of $14.5 million in bonds for the construction of a school building and the other authorizes an increase in the debt limit for the district from the 5 percent of assessed value set by the North Dakota Constitution. Both need to pass by a 60 percent majority for the project to proceed.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday at each of the schools in the district. Residents of the Barnes County North district can vote absentee by calling the Spiritwood School at 252-0193. Voting is open to any eligible voter who has resided in the district for at least 30 days.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at email@example.com