Williston, ND (KEYZ) Passive aggressive or just plain aggressive? Some residents of Williams County School District 8 are up in arms about the 73-19 passage of House BIll 1434 Tuesday. Authored by District 1 representative David Richter, it would empower a school district to unilaterally dissolve itself and then become absorbed into another district operating or not operating a high school in the same county. Co-sponsor, Williston senator Brad Bekkedahl, says this ensures local control of education.
“It’s a backstop so that if District 1 ever financially had enough difficulties that it couldn’t continue there’s a place where the school district could continue to operate which would be the adjacent school district, taking over that district. If we didn’t have this legislation then what would happen is the Department of Public Instruction would have to come in and try to set up a new school board within District 1 and attempt to get it started again,” the Senator tells News Radio.
Bekkedahl doesn’t see this scenario playing out, but such an outcome would most certainly raise taxes substantially in District 8, and this is primarily what has got folks up in arms. The district could pull this trigger without any public hearing or taxpayer approval.
School District 1 Board President Joanne Baltes says she is not unsympathetic to the concerns of District 8 residents and taxpayers, but the bill is an “equalizer for districts” that are providing services to districts that have decided not to move into the K-12 realm.
“It is a huge burden on District one, when you have a neighboring K – 8 District that doesn’t have a high school, when you are in an over capacity situation like we are. I think this bill, (1434) basically provides an opportunity if it ever became necessary for District 1 to dissolve because it’s a K-12 district where previously it would not have been able to,”says Baltes.
While Baltes agrees with Bekkedahl that such a scenario is far fetched, she is hoping that the threat of a District 1 dissolution, which would force an absorption by District 8 will prompt more dialogue with the two districts working more closely together on solving mutual issues brought about by rapid growth. “It’s helpful to have those kind of bills on the books to get other people to the table. It is a pretty inequitable situation when you look at the taxable valuation that District 8 has which is 279-thousand dollars per student, and District 1 has 27,900, and yet we foot the bill for their high school,”says Baltes.
Bekkedahl on the other hand says, if it forces the two sides closer together, then so be it, but that is not the bills purpose.
“There is no intent in the bill to put pressure on District 1 or 8 to do either of those things, but we’re tying to be is pre-emptive so that if district one ever had the degree of difficulty and have to make a decision, there is a place for the kids to be served by another school district,” says Bekkedahl.
Critics say this bill is just another attempt by lawmakers to avoid the state’s constitutional obligation to fund public education.