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County committee approves Wolford School District dissolution plan

By Staff | Dec 6, 2019

A map showing how Wolford School District land will be divided between four school districts. The Rugby Public School District (green) will receive 65.8 percent of the land, Rolette (yellow) will receive 21.93 percent, Leeds (blue) will receive 6.53 percent, and North Star (red) will receive 5.74 percent.

The Pierce County Reorganization Committee approved a plan to allot portions of the former Wolford School District to Rugby and other adjacent school districts at a hearing Monday evening at the Pierce County Courthouse.

The committee consisted of Pierce County residents Wanda Follman, David Kraft, Charlotte Burkhartsmeier, Mike Heidlebaugh and Donna Hager. Heidlebaugh served as committee chair at the hearing.

Pierce County Auditor Karin Fursather told the committee notice of the hearing had been published in newspapers in four school districts receiving Wolford students, and school board members, superintendents and business managers for Rolette, Rugby, Leeds and North Star school districts received letters and information packets pertaining to the hearing.

The committee and public reviewed an information packet including a township map of school land in northern Pierce and southern Rolette Counties, and discussed the proportions of land going to Rugby, Rolette, Leeds and North Star school districts.

The committee heard testimony and questions from several members of the public.

Ryan Peterson, president of the Rolette School Board, thanked the committee for the packet he had received in the mail.

Peterson said, ” I did receive the letter and invitation, but I guess my concern right now is within the letter, the map wasn’t included. So, it was hard to prepare any testimony because we didn’t know what we would be testifying to or for.”

Peterson added, “We’ve heard a number of conflicting information as to how the land was going to be divided. We had a conversation with one gentleman about it; we had a conversation with the original bill’s sponsor about the new law so I guess that would be my question today.”

Peterson referred to a new law, North Dakota House Bill 1434, which affects how land and property tax revenues from dissolved school districts would be divided among neighboring school districts.

“This map – it’s unfortunate we didn’t have it before this meeting, so we could have prepared formal testimony,” Peterson said.

Peterson asked the committee what percentage of land would go to Rolette County schools.

“(The portion of Rolette School District land) would be everything that’s in Rolette County of Wolford School District,” Fursather said. “That’s 21.93 percent of the original school district.”

The Wolford School District dissolution plan would also give 5.74 percent of land to North Star Public School District, 6.53 percent to Leeds Public School District and 65.8 percent to Rugby Public School District.

Wolford School District Business Manager Wanita Olson and Wolford School District Superintendent Larry Zavada also asked Fursather to clarify the number of former Wolford students attending adjacent districts. Olson said the breakdown did not come in the informational packet she received.

Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff told the committee he had been aware of the district map and percentages of land to the four districts late in October.

“When you look at this, there’s certainly a way to find this information out. There are open meetings and so on. So, I guess from my standpoint, when you look at the percentages, it’s all accurate. For my testimony, I’m in support of the plan,” McNeff noted.

“I feel like I had all the information ahead of time, and that was available,” McNeff added.

Olson asked for clarification on how sections of property in Union Township, Rolette County, were divided and how one section was exchanged for land going to the Rugby Public School District.

Fursather told her that tax valuation figured into the decision to divide the land.

Pierce County States Attorney Galen Mack noted, “It’s my understanding that it’s a little over $25,000 for 160 acres in section one, true and full value, not necessarily market value, and the true and full value for the two quarters in section 7 is $17,620.”

Rolette County Auditor Val McCloud asked the committee, “Can you give us a breakdown what taxable valuation is of true and full valuation of each district broken up?”

Heidlebaugh gave the value of land going to the school districts – Rolette School District as $963,992; North Star, $252,507; Leeds, $287,228 and Rugby, $2,819,102 for a total of $4,395,829.

After the committee approved the public testimony, they discussed a separate fund consisting of an unobligated cash balance in an amount not to exceed $10,000 kept by the county auditor per North Dakota Century Code for one year from effective date of dissolution.

The committee also voted to table a discussion of funds kept for future possible unemployment claims through Job Service North Dakota due to likely changes in the amount needed for the fund. The Job Service North Dakota account for the Wolford School District would remain open for 18 months for possible claims.

The committee voted to divide amongst the school districts the amounts in remaining funds after the holding periods.

However, Olson said any amount over $10,000 in unobligated funds would be returned to taxpayers in the form of a tax credit.

The committee approved the dissolution plan as described on the district redraw map with clarifications made by Wolford School District representatives.

Fursather and Zavada said they had plans to attend a State Board of Public Education meeting in Bismarck in January 2020.

The committee received an update from Zavada on bids open for the school building and land. Bids will be received until 4 p.m. Dec. 16.

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