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Voters in Oil-Boom District Reject School's First Bond Request Since 1955

CHICAGO — Voters in Williston, N.D., the heart of the state’s historic oil boom, rejected Tuesday a $55 million general obligation bond proposal by the local school district to accommodate a spike in enrollment.

Nearly 75% of voters rejected the request, which was the district’s first since 1955, according to local reports.

Officials said in a statement that the vote showed that “the advancement of student education ... is not a priority at this time.”

“The Williston Public School District No. 1 will continue to educate the students in the current buildings and modular classrooms and technology advances will be sluggish.”

Enrollment has increased by nearly 20% over the past five years at the district, which now has a K-12 enrollment of 2,806, up by 500 from 2008, according to the district. School officials had said the bond request — their largest ever — was the “last resort” for dealing with overcrowding at the schools.

The district had planned to expand and build on already-owned land in part to avoid the cost of buying land in the area, which has seen a major spike in housing costs from the boom. Rental units that once cost $400 a month are now renting for $1,500, and many units rent for between $2,000 to $4,000, according to the Williston Herald.

North Dakota is in the midst of the largest oil boom in its history, centered around several counties in the western part of the state. The boom is driving an increase in population and demand for housing, schools, and other services. It is also putting a strain on infrastructure like roads.

Local school districts in Bismark and Mandan recently won voter approval for bond issues to accommodate growth.

Last year the state launched a new credit-enhancement program for small school districts, many of which are increasingly needing to borrow to handle growth. Like most state school enhancement programs, North Dakota’s features an intercept mechanism that pledges the state will accelerate its aid payments if the district is unable to make a payment.

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