Posted 1/16/19 (Wed)
By Neal A. ShipmanFarmer Editor
If there was any question as to how important having quality educational facilities are to the patrons of McKenzie County Public School District No. 1, that question was answered in last Tuesday’s special school election in a very big way. By an overwhelming 80 percent approval, voters said that they were willing to have their property taxes increased so that a second elementary school could be built in Watford City to meet a growing student enrollment.
And, on a second question on the ballot, by a 71 percent approval, they gave the school district the authority to increase the district’s building fund up to 20 mills to meet future growth needs.
The “yes” vote on the bond referendum to construct the new elementary school, which is expected to cost nearly $34 million, was really a no-brainer. With enrollment numbers surging in the existing elementary school, other than using portable classrooms, the district really had no place to put any more students. A second new elementary school was needed.
But the second question on the ballot dealing with increasing the building fund levy was not only a leap of faith by the voters. It was also a vote in their confidence that the school district would only increase those mill levies when the student enrollment growth warranted it.
Passing bond referendums for new schools isn’t something that voters in a lot of North Dakota communities have been in support of. Minot voters haven’t supported the building of a new school in the past, nor have voters in Beulah. And just last week, Williston Public School District voters turned down two almost identical measures that were on our local ballot.
So why do the voters in McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 continually agree to taxing themselves to support the building of schools and the improvement of our school system, while that is not the same response from other voters around the state?
The easiest answer is probably community pride. Whether the school district voters live in the Grassy Butte, Keene, Arnegard or Watford City areas, they want their children or grandchildren to be able to have a quality education in quality facilities. And they understand that as the school enrollment grows, those needs have to be met.
But a second reason that I believe that voters overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves for the new high school in 2014, and now in 2019 for a new elementary school, is their confidence in the district’s administration and school board. Over the years, the district has not been extravagant when it came to remodeling the existing elementary school. Nor was it when it built the new high school.
The school board has done its homework each and every time that it said it needed a bond referendum or asked for a mill levy increase. And by doing their homework and communicating those needs to the public, the school district has been rewarded by the voters.
But at the end of the day, it is the voters who had to make the hard choice as to whether or not they wanted to self-impose a tax increase upon themselves.
Their decision to do so speaks volumes about the future of the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 and the quality of educational opportunities that it will be able to provide for generations of students.