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Published June 01, 2012, 04:44 PM

ND Oil Patch Schools Say They Are in Crisis

School officials in the northwestern North Dakota oil patch say they are in a state of emergency because of an influx of students and need state help.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — School officials in the northwestern North Dakota oil patch say they are in a state of emergency because of an influx of students and need state help.

Schools might need as much as $200 million to handle as many as 3,000 new students next year, Stanley Superintendent Kent Hjelmstad told state legislators during a Thursday meeting in Williston. The amount is double the estimate in a recent study done by a Bismarck consultant at the request of Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Hjelmstad said needs include new buildings, additional staff, more buses, support for a growing special education population, teacher housing and equipment, according to The Forum newspaper (http://bit.ly/KQpqYM ).

"There are literally kids standing there saying 'Where are you going to put us?'" Hjelmstad said.

The oil boom in western North Dakota is drawing companies and workers from around the country. Officials have been working to ease a housing crunch, and as more housing becomes available, more oil workers are going to bring their families, Hjelmstad said.

Several legislators on the Education Funding and Taxation Committee questioned why an increased property tax base in oil patch communities where new housing is being built won't be able to support growing school districts. Superintendents said eventually that will happen, but right now many students are living in temporary housing that doesn't generate tax revenue.

School officials also said they cannot wait until next year's legislative session for relief.

"These are right-now issues because we have to have the teachers by August. We have to have a place for them to live by August," Ray Superintendent Marlyn Vatne said.

McKenzie County Superintendent Steve Holen suggested several possible solutions, including re-evaluating school districts' debt limits, providing low-interest construction bonds and adjusting how oil and gas production tax revenue is distributed.

Committee Chairwoman RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, said she has suggested that cities assess a fee for new homes being built that could be designated to new school buildings.

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Information from: The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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