Bismarck Alliance for Neighborhood Schools
Questions for the Candidates
Bismarck School Board Election will be held June 12, 2018
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
On School Funding:
- Urge the school board to develop a pro-active budgetary process that anticipates enrollment growth and state funding changes.
- Urge the legislature to adopt a "same-year" funding formula for all school districts that eliminate the lag associated with using previous-year enrollment data in the state's education funding formula.
On Neighborhood Schools:
- Protect the quality of life associated with maintaining school facilities close to the families that are served by the school district.
- Urge the school board to more closely coordinate with the City of Bismarck to minimize the inflationary effects of "urban sprawl" while maintaining the ability to serve a growing city in a cost-effective way.
- Urge the legislature to provide lending capacity to the Bank of North Dakota to allow schools to access low-interest infrastructure loans to avoid the open bond market as interest rates increase worldwide.
On Property Taxes:
- Ensure that all state efforts to reduce property tax reach the property owners of Bismarck.
- Urge the legislature to reward instead of punishing school districts that take actions to reduce local tax burdens.
- Oppose the use of special elections to sneak future bonding and building projects past the voters
- Urge the Bismarck City Commission to allow the school district to receive benefit from Renaissance Zone Projects after a two-year exemption instead of the standard five-year exemption period.
How do you plan to address the projected continued growth of Bismarck’s student population, especially in north Bismarck?
This is an area where the school board must come to a policy decision with the City of Bismarck. I am one of those who believe that there should be a moratorium on the expansion of city limits and city services until we can figure out why the growth of Bismarck is not paying for the expanded needs of Bismarck.
While the school district does extend beyond the city limit boundary, the availability (or lack) of city services beyond the exist city footprint will determine how much more the school district will have to build outward.
As the city’s Infrastructure Task Force has determined, there simply is not the tax revenue to justify continuing to annex and expand Bismarck’s city limits. The school board needs to realize this and factor it into its long term plans.
Growth for the sake of growth is not productive if it draws in less value than is needed to maintain service levels. This applies to both the city and the school district.
How do you plan to address the continually shifting school boundaries for Bismarck’s elementary students?
Shifting school boundaries while annoying and inconvenient are far less intrusive than the alternative (closing and building further away). The school district should work to minimize the impact of these changes on students as much as possible.
In the face of looming budget pressures, do you see it as a Bismarck school board member’s responsibility to advocate for K-12 education funding in state legislature?
Bismarck School District has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of increases in state funding.
From 2000 to 2017, state funding to Bismarck School District increased by 325% (from $25 million to $112 million).
While roughly half of that increase was in the name of “property tax relief” and half in new state funding, local property tax revenue to the school district is today $8 million per year higher than what was collected in the year 2000.
That has been a steep increase in funding. It would be unreasonable to assume that rate of growth would continue. Now, with the decline in oil revenue, Bismarck School District must find a way to deal with flat state funding that may last for another 2-6 years or more. And it must do this without leaning back on property tax increases (the mill levy is capped at the current 60 mills by state law anyways).
The school district simply has no choice but to operate within the revenue it can collect by law – which is what it is collecting now.
In 2017, BPS administration figures erroneously suggested smaller neighborhood schools are significantly less efficient than large schools on Bismarck’s outer edges, subjecting neighborhood schools to closure (the recommendation was later rejected by the school board). How do you plan to maintain the integrity of Bismarck’s neighborhood schools?
There are many ways to judge “efficiency”. However, the idea that shutting down existing facilities in favor of building new is efficient should be questioned by all involved. When schools in older neighborhoods are shut down, that reduces the upside value of the homes and property around it, which in turn reduces the taxable valuation base of the school district. I have yet to see any reports by the Bismarck School District that show the effect of a flattened or declining tax base on the “savings” they say there is created by consolidating in new fringe buildings.
This is part of the “big picture” approach I think is missing at the school board level, and frankly, at most levels of government. When you only look at one side of ledger and do not even account for other factors, you cannot make a sound judgement. We need to have a dynamic rather than static evaluation of these factors. That does not even get into the undefinable monetary value of the “quality of life” created by having schools near the people they serve.
Without a dynamic accounting to show significant savings, I would generally default to renovating and upgrading existing schools. If there are safety or environmental issues, only then should closing be an option. But we need to look at the whole picture, not just part of the picture.