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Close Dent school this winter?

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The prospect of closing the Dent elementary school by the end of the month was discussed--but it appears highly unlikely.

Desperate to cut nearly $300,000 by the end of the year, the Perham-Dent School Board discussed closing the Dent school five months earlier than planned.

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Last spring, the board voted to keep the small, 43-student, Dent elementary school open through this year, but move all K-4 grade students to Perham next fall.

Because of the school's drastic financial situation, closing Dent was back on the table at the Dec. 3 school board meeting.

Closing the school early in the new year would possibly save about $20,000.

"We made a promise to the community to keep the Dent school open," said school board chairman Ron Berns, who is concerned about the integrity of the board and also losing students to open enrollment. "The parents will be upset, ...we may lose more money, in lost students."

After a series of emotional meetings last spring, the school board voted to keep the Dent K-4 school open one more year, in order to give parents and kids time to plan and acclimate themselves to the prospect of moving to a new school.

Meanwhile, the board is exploring alternative uses for the Dent facility--such as day care, adult education, and other activities.

Board member Mike Hamman said that he was one of the most supportive voices in keeping the Dent school open, "but things have changed."

On a local--and global--level, the economy is affecting everything. "It is only fair that we look at all options," said Hamman.

"But I still feel we have a commitment to stay in Dent for this year," said board member Jim Rieber.

Speaking from the audience, activities director Fred Sailer said that "we promised them that those 43 kids could continue school there for a year."

"I don't think any of us would want to do that to the youngest of our kids," said Sailer, who was concerned that such a move would cripple relationships with the Dent community. "I don't think our integrity should be for sale."

But the bottom line, suggested school board member Dave Schornack, is that the Perham-Dent schools simply have too much space. And that is why the prospect of closing Dent, as well as the ALC and Family Resource Center, have come to the forefront.

"Our facilities are too big for the number of students we have," said Schornack. "The enrollment projections are all down, and we just have too much facility, too much fixed cost, too much overhead."

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