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Countdown to the levy referendum

Can a school be run like a business? Should it be run like a business?

These questions have been a reoccurring theme during the campaign for--and against--the Perham-Dent school levy referendum.

"The school should be run like a business... Businesses run a year at a time, they don't budget out to ten years," said Bernie Steeves, Otter Tail Lake area, who is one of the organizers of the "Vote No" campaign. "I am not against the school. But why not a levy increase for two years? Ten years is a lot of money."

If voters approve the increased levy, which would bring in about $950,000 annually, the length would be ten years.

"The more I'm involved in government, the more I see the limitations in operating like a business," said board member Jim Rieber, at the Perham-Dent school board meeting Oct. 8.

"You can make good business decisions--but you can't run it like a business...It's not the same world," added Rieber.

For example, noted board member Mike Hamann, a school doesn't have the ability to implement sweeping lay-offs of staff--which a business would do in tough economic times. Nearly 80 percent of the school's budget is salaries and wages. Because of the mandates and obligations required of public education, all citizens have the right to an education. Schools can't simply cut teaching staff in the sense that the private sector can, said Hamann.

The Concerned Citizens for Property Tax Fairness group contends that the levy would push property taxes up by 69 percent. The group, which has been running advertisements in the Perham Enterprise Bulletin, calculated the impact of the levy over its ten year life. For a $300,000 home, for example, it represents $359 a year, or a $3,590 impact over ten years.

With the rise of property values, especially on lakeshore property, the impact could be even greater, contends Dave Sethre, of the Concerned Citizens group.

It will be important for the school board and administrators to continue to curb spending, said Hamann.

"If the needs for all of the levy are not there, we can lower the levy," said Hamann. "If the levy passes, we don't want to come in and add back programs. This is only to maintain what we have."

The board and the "Vote Yes" group have staunchly contended that the increased levy would only retain programs at present levels. The increased levy would prevent continued cuts, which are projected at $500,000 a year if the levy doesn't pass, contends the "Together For Kids" group.

"We have to reign ourselves in on spending, if we want to keep the faith of the people," said Hamann.