LISTEN: “You feel like you’re being held hostage”

Last week I wrote that it is time to eliminate the 60% requirement for school bond referendums in North Dakota. The most prominent example of why this change is needed is Williston District 1. The District has held two referendum votes in 2019. Both received over 58% of the vote but fell short of the state-required 60%. The School Board President for Williston District 1, Joanna Baltes joined me on August 16th to discuss how this threshold is a barrier for local control and the state as a whole.

Joanna Baltes
You feel like you’re being held hostage, we keep losing by narrow margins and it’s frustrating because we have a lot of work to do and we can’t focus on it because of the 60% threshold.
– Joanna Baltes, President of Williston District 1 School Board


In addition to talking about the 60% threshold, Baltes pointed out Williston’s unique situation. “What happens in Williston impacts the entire state of North Dakota since 50% of our oil and gas revenue goes to everyone, no matter where you live in North Dakota,” says Baltes. “If we can’t sustain good quality schools, it impacts our entire state.” It is an economic issue in addition to an education issue.

In response to my post calling for the elimination of the 60% threshold from the Legislature, people suggested more state money should be sent to local school districts. It could help with school construction and keep property taxes lower they said. They make a fair point. Some have called for the Legacy Fund to be used for education. More on that later.

As a host on KFGO Radio in Fargo, a caller told me he may consider an initiated measure targeting the Common Schools Trust Fund to make it more readily available for districts across the state. I’ll be watching for developments on the front.  Coincidentally, the Common Schools Trust Fund was shorted $137 MILLION dollars by State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt. Instead of accountability for the large error, the Legislature voted to give her a raise. She is up for reelection in 2020. Will she face a primary challenge in the NDGOP? Doubtful. They just gave her a pay raise! Does she deserve reelection? I don’t believe her record warrants it.

I’ll repeat, “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.

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