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School board discusses bonding increase

Stock art to help depict visually the concept of "bonds".

The Dickinson Public School Board discussed raising the district's bonding capacity on Monday from 5 to 10 percent, a measure that would require a public vote.

"With our current bonding capacity ... we have approximately $17 million in availability for future bonds," Superintendent Doug Sullivan said. "We continue to see hospitals set records for live birth in the community and if those numbers continue to hold we'll continue to see more pressure on our kindergarten classrooms."

District Business Manager Kent Anderson explained in an email that the school board now can't seek voter approval for $20 million of debt for new facilities because that $20 million would exceed the school's debt limit.

"The debt capacity/debt limit of a school district is set by the North Dakota Constitution at 5% of the school district's assessed valuation of all taxable property in the district," Anderson said. "North Dakota Century Code allows school districts to place a resolution on a ballot of any regular or special election the question of increasing the district's debt limit from 5% to 10%. This increase, if approved, would have no impact on the voter's taxes."

Sullivan said the district can't afford to fund a new elementary school and address the needs of the high school with $17 million.

"While we could build an elementary school with $17 million, addressing the needs of Dickinson High School and building an elementary school cannot be done for $17 million," he said. "There are a couple of mechanisms available to the school board for the school board to address these needs—this is one of them."

School board members made no decision on whether to seek an increase in bonding capacity, but they discussed how long the process would take if they decide to seek one.

In response to a question from school board member Brent Seaks, Sullivan said getting voter approval for an increase in the bonding capacity would provide more opportunity for community input on future education facilities.

School board member Tanya Rude voiced concerns that a decision to move forward might be premature.

"I kind of feel like this is putting the cart before the horse, because we don't even know what we're going to be doing with the high school, because that's really what we've been looking for getting some more funds for, is to do something with the high school," Rude said. "If we don't know what we're going to be doing or the amount that is going to cost, then why go before the taxpayers? Because the question they are going to ask is, 'Well, what have you been looking at and how much is it going to cost?' "

Sarah Ricks, president of the board, said moving forward now instead of waiting until it becomes necessary would save time later.

"Now you have got two uncertainties, you have to both make sure you can get that bonding capacity increased and also get the bonding passed, so that's breaking the work into two separate chunks," she said. "Now you have the assurity that the capacity is increased before you come to the public to ask for money."

Ricks said if it becomes clear additional funds aren't needed, then "great." But, "If we do need it, it's there and that parts already done. We're not in a time crunch later trying to pass two different issues in quick succession."

Ricks also emphasized that this wasn't a decision to be made immediately, but rather something the board should look into and convene discuss further after the New Year.

"We don't have to decide on this now, but this is something to think about and do more research on," she said.