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Frazee plans school board primary vote -- 11 candidates file for office

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news Perham, 56573

Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

In an early sign of yet another lively school election season, Frazee-Vergas is holding a primary election to narrow down a long list of board candidates.

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School board primaries are a rare occurrence in Minnesota. Frazee is the only district in Clay, Becker, Wilkin, Otter Tail and Norman counties resorting to a primary this summer. District officials say they want to streamline the November election after a crowded applicant pool in 2008.

Eleven residents, competing for four seats, filed by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline. They are Richard Ziegler (incumbent), Don Thorp (incumbent), Chris Wacker, Matt Bauer, James R. Nelson, Carey Alger, Kevin Litzau, Rick Dekarski, Mary Lepisto, Kenny Fett and Brenda Como.

That's the same number of candidates as in 2008. Most are fresh faces.

"We had so many candidates in 2008 that it became very difficult to have an effective campaign and even complete ballots at the polls," said Amie Erickson, the district's business office assistant.

That year, 50 residents submitted questions for a candidate forum in town hosted by the League of Women Voters. The would-be board members didn't come close to tackling all of them in two hours.

In April, the board opted to hold an Aug. 10 primary, which would not have taken place if there were fewer than two candidates per open spot.

Interest in running for the Frazee-Vergas board spiked after the 2007 passage of a levy referendum on the fifth try and a subsequent effort to repeal it. More recently, there was a failed administration attempt to cut several teachers in 2009 and a protracted contract negotiation with the teachers union.

That's the sort of turmoil that yields hotly contested board elections, even as many districts in the state still contend with a candidate shortage, says Greg Abbott of the Minnesota School Board Association.

"All of a sudden something happens that incites the community, and you have 15 people running for school board," Abbott said.

In the 2008-09 election cycle, only 17 districts in the state hosted primaries. Wayne Bezenek, the Wilkin County auditor, and Richard Munter, his Norman County counterpart, do not recall school primaries in their counties in 16 and 29 years on the job, respectively.

Other area districts where candidates came out in full force in 2008 were Breckenridge (13 for four seats) and Lake Park-Audubon (eight for three seats). The turnouts appeared in reaction to a superintendent's ouster in Breckenridge and a long-running effort to pass a bond referendum in LP-A.

This year, both districts opted to bypass a primary. The filing period for the general election is Aug. 3-17.

(Mila Koumpilova works for The Forum, a Forum Communications Co.)

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