North Dakota House unanimously votes down bill to cap superintendent pay, combine school district leadership

The sponsor of the bill voted down his own legislation after hearing feedback on how the law would have affected small public school districts in North Dakota.

North Dakota Legislature
The North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. Photo illustration by Troy Becker

BISMARCK — A bill that sought to combine administration in smaller public school districts and cap superintendent salaries was killed after a unanimous vote against it on Friday, Feb. 10, in the North Dakota House of Representatives.

Even Rep. Matt Ruby, R-Minot, who introduced House Bill 1251, went against his own proposition.

“After hearing about what the practices of some of the small school districts have done, it became evident this would do harm to more school districts than it would potentially help. This was a conversation that many felt needed to be had, and we certainly got that going with this one. Now it needs to die, so vote red,” Ruby told legislators on the House floor.

HB 1251 would have limited one superintendent for a minimum of 475 students and capped superintendents' salaries at 1.5% of total tax revenue per district. If the bill had passed, it would have eliminated 60 superintendent positions.

The bill stirred up fiery opposition from Democrats, who called the proposition micromanagement and government overreach.


After hearing from 11 people who opposed the bill during the education committee hearing, the committee gave the bill a "do not pass" recommendation on a 10-4 vote, Rep. Donald Longmuir, R-Stanley, said.

Rep. Lisa Finley-DeVille, D-Fort Berthold, said the bill would impact tribal schools, adding that superintendents in her district are culturally and traditionally connected to students.

Josh Ruffo, president of Turtle Lake-Mercer School Board, said his district has 177 students, and many smaller school districts already have the option to share superintendents.

The superintendent at Turtle Lake-Mercer Public Schools typically serves as the activities director, a substitute teacher, a coordinator of government programs, works with the special education board and more, Ruffo said.

“We currently only employ one K-12 principal, and if this bill passes, we will have to hire an additional person to cover all the additional roles that the superintendent does,” he said.

Alexis Baxley, executive director of the North Dakota School Boards Association, opposed the bill saying it would be bad for schools across the state.

“We believe that school districts are best run by the parents of the children who fill those halls, by the members of the community who pay taxes to fund them, and we believe this bill is an attack on that governance style and that local control,” she said. "We don’t believe this decision should be made at the state level."

While speaking on the House floor, Longmuir said superintendents are often required or volunteer to work additional hours and jobs to keep schools functioning.


“The future holds many challenges for smaller school districts, and the districts will meet these challenges,” he said.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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