By Fargo Board of Education President Robin Nelson
We are just past the halfway point of the 2015 North Dakota legislative session. The Fargo Board of Education members and administrative staff are following approximately 80 bills as they progress through committee hearings to each floor for debate and voting. A few weeks ago, the school districts of Fargo and West Fargo jointly hosted an informational breakfast in Bismarck for our respective legislators.
Here are four topics upon which the Board of Education is focusing the largest efforts:
English Language Learner Students
Along with Fargo, districts such as West Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck are seeing a sizable influx of ELL students. For obvious reasons, it takes additional and targeted resources to help these children as they learn the English language, assimilate into our culture and oftentimes overcome various traumas. Without additional funding to give these children the services they need and deserve, we are forced to pull funding from other district programming. We are advocating for supplemental funding for this increasing statewide population.
Early Childhood Education
The general benefits of early childhood education and its impact upon student success are indisputable. There are a handful of bills that address increased resources for the Headstart program and further alignment of educational standards. The bill most likely to survive requires joining the forces of K – 12 districts, local childcare providers, and the related funding and oversight. Partnerships amongst for-profit, non-profit, and government funded entities will be formed if this bill passes. It is a complicated but extremely worthwhile discussion, and one in which we will continue to actively participate.
Fund Balance Limits – UPDATE: This bill was soundly defeated.
There is a bill to limit school district ending general fund balances to 10% in addition to limiting all other funds (health insurance reserve, food services, etc.) to 1.5%. Our internal board policy is to maintain no lower than a 15% general fund balance. Severely limited fund balances would adversely affect school district operations.
Due to the timing of cash receipts, it is vital to maintain cash flow in order to operate our district. In addition, national financial rating firms (Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s) that assign us ratings similar to a personal credit score, suggest we maintain a minimum of a 15% ending fund balance. This demonstrated financial responsibility allows us to secure the most favorable interest rates and subsequently save money for the District. Our health insurance reserve fund serves as a good example of how fund limits could directly affect district employees. If this fund is limited to 1.5%, we predict it will affect our ability to offer the lower cost, self-insured plans currently available to FPS employees.
Guns on School Property and at School Sponsored Events
Our District is categorically opposed to citizens or District staff carrying guns on school property. At the same time, we respect that rural districts do not have as timely access to police or sheriff services as urban districts. One bill allowing the carrying of concealed weapons with district oversight quickly passed the House and will now proceed to the Senate. There was another bill that would provide funding for Student Resource Officers in smaller districts. Our district supported the latter, but unfortunately it was defeated. We, along with law enforcement departments, will be testifying against the remaining conceal and carry bill.
If you have any questions regarding these legislative issues, you may email Fargo School Board President Robin Nelson at NelsonR@fargo.k12.nd.us .