Grand Forks school officials favor revised hike of 21.6 percent

Grand Forks School Superintendent Larry Nybladh and School Board president Vicki Ericson listen as Grand Forks resident Schurkey Swanke comments during Monday’s School Board meeting. Photo credit: Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Nearly 40 people broke into a round of applause Monday when a motion to increase property taxes by 28.6 percent failed at the Grand Forks School Board meeting.

But the motion that passed in its place received little fanfare from residents.

That motion, proposed by board member Kelly Hogness, puts the district’s new tax rate at 89.78 mills. Taxes would still increase by 21.6 percent, but the district would be required to deficit spend.

“If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we’ll never cut,” Hogness said.

Hogness’ motion, passed by a vote of 7-2, also asked that the board strive to cut 16 mills in the next two years, bringing the school’s mill rate to the full 50-mill buydown approved by the state Legislature this year.

The 28-percent increase was proposed to cover a nearly $5.4-million deficit the district is facing due to what officials say was caused mostly by enrollment growth not being paid for by state funding.

Two other options besides the 28-percent increase and the 21-percent increase created by Hogness were presented to the board by Vicky Schwartz, district business manager. One had the district raising taxes by 23 percent and the other included no tax increase.

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The meeting last night quickly became a tense one. No council meeting I have sat through compares to it.

In short: It was circus.

If they weren’t up at the podium scrutinizing the board, meeting attendees had no problem doing it from their chairs. Near-shouting matches erupted from time to time.

Fargo TV personality Chris Berg even decided to join in at one point. You may remember him being on the receiving end of a naughty word from Superintendent Larry Nybladh a couple of weeks ago, which ultimately resulted in an apology from Nybladh.

It’s all part of a story that isn’t over yet. Check back for more coverage on the altered increase later this week.

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