Overcrowding still present

Minot voters defeated a $125 million bond issue proposal Tuesday, but school officials said school overcrowding isn’t going away.

“Our most urgent need is at the elementary level,” said school board president Jim Rostad. “With nine portables at Washington, our number one concern was trying to build a new elementary where we already have the land and also some safety and security issues at some of our schools that are really poorly designed.”

At Washington Elementary, nine portable classrooms are in use because the number of students has exceeded the capacity of the building, he said.

Rostad said the board will have to meet to discuss what they want to do next, but he thinks another bond election that would at least fund a new elementary school is likely within the next few months.

If it had been approved, the $125 million school bond issue defeated Tuesday would have raised money for a number of identified projects, including a new 550 student elementary school on 10 acres of land already owned by the district at the corner of 37th Avenue and 13th Street Southeast, the purchase of land in north Minot and construction of a second 9-12 high school, converting Central Campus into a fourth middle school for the school district, renovating Magic City Campus so it could accommodate grades 9-12 and additions as needed at other elementaries. The failed bond issue would have provided funding for video cameras at school entrances as well as relocating school offices near the front entrance at several schools.

The bond issue in Minot would have also raised the school district mill levy by 51 mills. The owner of a $200,000 home in Minot could have expected to pay an additional $456 per year in school property taxes.

A demographer predicts that Minot, which has a current enrollment of 7,400 students, could see an additional 1,000 students enroll within the next five years.

Even though the need for more space at the elementary level is most urgent, Rostad said the other needs won’t go away. Within four or five years, enrollment at the middle schools will exceed capacity when there is an influx of new students.

“I think we’re eventually going to be faced with all those issues,” said Rostad, who said the school board did a lot of research before asking the voters to approve a $125 million bond issue. “We didn’t want to put a Band-Aid on it.”

Rostad said he plans to ask the 2015 State Legislature for additional funding, but his position would have been stronger if the bond issue had passed.

“That is one of my biggest disappointments in failing to pass the bond issue,” said Rostad. “I wanted to approach the Legislature more aggressively knowing we had the community of Minot behind us.”

There were 4,340 votes in favor of the bond issue on Tuesday and 4,349 no votes, making the vote about 50-50. The bond issue required 60 percent or greater approval to pass. Voters also were asked to grant approval to increase the school district’s debt by an additional 5 percent beyond the current 5 percent debt limit set by the state constitution. Voters defeated that proposal with 4,786 no votes and 3,894 yes votes.

“We haven’t had a bond issue passed since 1969,” said Rostad. “I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was disappointed.”

Superintendent Mark Vollmer said Wednesday that the district will likely send out surveys to determine why voters rejected the bond issue.

“Half of the people thought it was a great idea or at least an acceptable idea,” said Vollmer.

Vollmer said the board will have to meet to determine its next steps. He said one option the board might consider would be a series of smaller bond issues over a period of years, with voters asked to approve funding for projects as the need arises. The board might also ask voters again to approve the $125 million bond issue, said Vollmer.

“The need still exists,” said Vollmer.

Vollmer said it will likely be necessary to redraw district boundary lines to balance out enrollment at schools in the district. Some schools are not yet at capacity, while others are overcrowded. The district will also still seek money through state sources or one-time grant opportunities, said Vollmer.