It is past time to correct the voting requirement for school building and renovations in North Dakota. Currently, the Legislature and Governor require school districts get 60% of eligible voter approval to build needed schools to address overcrowding. Their arbitrary threshold has created an unnecessary burden on many school districts dealing with enrollment growth. If these politicians are the champions of “local control” that they claim to be, letting residents self-govern should be an easy fix. Simply put, get out of the way.
On August 13th, Governor Burgum met with school superintendents and school board officials from Williams County school districts. According to reports in the Williston Herald, “The key, Burgum said, was local control and local collaboration.” That sounds great, but it isn’t easy for local officials when the state he leads stands in the way of progress.
Burgum had heard from these school district officials during the legislative session earlier this year. On April 12th, Williston school district officials met with Burgum, Superintendent Baesler, and education leaders in the Legislature at the Capitol. The meeting took place after the school district failed to achieve the state-mandated 60% voter requirement for a new school. They got 58%. It was the second time this year the school district achieved 58% voter approval. Yet, they have no new school space to show for the vast support of education in the community.
The arbitrary 60% threshold was placed in law by legislators. They can easily move the threshold to a simple majority. Why don’t they? Are they afraid school districts will abuse the process of asking voters to approve more education spending? Would it be a sign the public doesn’t believe the state is spending enough on education? Or is it another example of the troubling pattern that points to lawmakers not trusting voters and local governments?
One of the barriers to addressing school district and enrollment growth is the State of North Dakota. Legislators and Governors who pass out political ads, and attend meetings deeming themselves in favor of “local control” are the very people standing in its way. When it comes to Williston, where are the western North Dakota lawmakers? Why aren’t they willing to take on this fight? Their educators and students need them to show up.