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April levy a go

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The Perham-Dent School Board is hoping April 3 will be its lucky day.

The board approved a capital operating levy referendum at its monthly meeting, setting in motion an April 3 vote that will ask residents to approve a new, and slightly different, kind of levy - one that largely excludes the possibility of its use for teacher, staff or administrative salaries.

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The new levy would generate around $440,000 per year for five years. That's down from the district's previous request of $973,000 a year.

The purpose of the levy is to generate funds for capital projects, along with technology for the classrooms.

The previous operating levy referendums sought a general amount, with little to no 'mandates' for spending. With class sizes hovering around 40 students, the district would have had freedom with the previous levies to hire more teachers, which would have alleviated class sizes.

That option, however, seems to be off the table.

The upcoming levy isn't ideal for school board members, but, after four straight failed attempts, they say they're ready to do what they can to help improve the education system for students. And they're looking to technology to help accomplish that goal.

Before that happens, they're going to have to sell voters on the idea.

Facing a resident base that has strong opinions for and against the school levy issue, some present at this month's meeting cautioned the board that hopping on the technology bandwagon may be hard for locals to understand, as it often seems like a luxury, rather than a necessity.

But, according to board members, that's no longer the case.

"The future is technology," said board member Mike Hamann.

Superintendent Mitch Anderson stands behind the importance of technology, saying it could change the face of education within the very near future.

"Five years down the road, it could be tough to find a hard book," he said, giving his opinion of what the future could hold.

The board has looked into equipping high school students with iPads - or iPad-like devices - that could first serve as additional learning tools and, eventually, possibly replace hard books altogether.

Bernie Steeves, known for his former 'vote no' stance, said he can get behind the district, but cautioned that the district should be exploring every option for technology purposes before money is spent.

If the levy referendum is approved, funds wouldn't be set to go into the school's coffers until the 2013-14 school year, giving the district some time to do its research.

While technology does play a large role in the upcoming levy, the board is also seeking funds that could be used to address building and grounds concerns, without taking it out of a fund used for educational-only purposes.

A wish list of 'in need' building and grounds repairs was submitted to the board earlier this month by Fred Sailer, who manages the district's building and grounds. While the district does have a fund balance in place, it's not quite near the $2 million the district's auditor recommends. While board members realize that's a number that seems like a high amount of cash for the district to work with, Superintendent Mitch Anderson said the fund reserve balance is for those emergency situations, like the breaking down of a boiler.

The new levy would provide an option for using designated funding for capitol repairs, without having to dig into that fund reserve balance.

Leading up to the vote

Anderson will be heading out into the voting district with board members before the April 3 vote. The meetings will be used as town hall type forums, where Anderson will present a slideshow showing the history of school funding in Minnesota and how it has impacted the Perham-Dent School District over the years. Those who attend the forums will then have a chance to ask questions and provide feedback. Dates for meetings have not yet been set.

Voting

Voting will take place at the three polling locations previously used in the November referendum. Those polling places include the Perham Area Community Center, the Dent Senior Citizen's Hall and the Ottertail Community Center.

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