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School District No. 1 working to solve teacher housing problem

Posted 5/23/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With virtually no form of affordable housing available within Watford City, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board has finally come to the decision either it has to purchase housing or they are not going to be successful in recruiting and hiring new teachers or administrative staff. The decision by the school board at its May 14 meeting marked the end of nearly two years of discussion on the merits of whether or not the district should be in the business of providing housing.
“All of our efforts to find apartments for our teachers to rent simply isn’t working,” stated Steve Holen, district superintendent. “We’ve got to come up with a solution so that we can hire our new staff.”
According to Holen, one of the new housing developers in Watford City is offering to sell the district eight townhouse units that are projected to be ready for occupancy by November. The units, which would cost approximately $180,000 a piece, would be 1,600 square feet and have three bedrooms and a double car garage.
“Using the state’s Flex Pace loan program, which would buy down the interest rate to one percent for the first seven years, we could see rents of about $450 per month under a 30-year note or $800 per month under a 15-year note,” stated Holen. “At the end of the seven-year period, the interest rate would go back to market levels.”
While Holen and the school board have long resisted becoming landlords, they realize that if they don’t have a housing option for employees, the chance of hiring new staff or even retaining existing staff is going to become more difficult.
“We’ve hired three to four employees for this fall who don’t have any housing options right now,” stated Holen. “Plus we have two employees that we hired last year that are still in need of housing. If we don’t have housing, we could lose them.”
One of the challenges, according to Holen, that the district will face with pursuing the Flex Pace loan program is the requirement that there be an $85,000 private contribution.
“We are exploring whether or not the city’s Roughrider Fund can be used for that $85,000 match,” stated Holen. “If that isn’t possible, then we’ll have to find another source.”
During Monday night’s meeting, the school board also approved the hiring of Brad Foss as the new elementary school principal and Randy Cranston as the assistant high school principal and athletic director. Foss would be hired for an 11-month contract at $85,000 per year, while Cranston’s $70,000 per year contract would be for 10 months.
The board also approved the resignations of Chuck Simpson and Ginny Erickson from the teaching staff and approved the hiring of five new elementary school positions.
“We’re slowly getting our teaching and administrative staff in place for the coming year,” states Holen. “All contracts are due by June 6 and then we’ll know what positions we have left to fill.”
According to Holen, the district has received signed contracts back for five new elementary school teachers and two high school teachers and is still actively recruiting for three elementary teaching positions.
In other business, the school board also approved a new summer violations policy.
Under the provisions of the new policy, any student who violates the district’s alcohol or tobacco use policy, will be receive a two-week or two-game suspension, whichever is worse, for each sporting or extracurricular event in which they are involved.