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LETTER TO EDITOR: Community should support Perham school levy for many reasons

In the past 25 years living and working in this community, I have had the opportunity to wear many hats. As I analyze each hat or role, the same answer arises: Yes. Yes, for what? Yes, for the District 549 Levy. Why? I imagine some will say, "That is pretty self-serving since she is a teacher," but that is only one of the hats I wear.

Teacher/Coach: I was hired 25 years ago to improve students' abilities to present their knowledge by using their voice. The staff believed the students did a great job academically, but were struggling when it came to being able to speak publically, interview for a job or college scholarship, and needed overall improvement in their communication skills. The teachers and community leaders wanted students to have essential communication skills for their future careers and relationships. Now, 25 years later, Perham is known for outstanding Speech competitors, students have been recognized for top scores in MSCTC college level Public Speaking, and most importantly, all District 549 students have the communication skills that give them an extra edge for work and college.

Speech is on the list of future cuts. It is nearly impossible for me to imagine students from District 549 not graduating with Public Speaking skills, strategies, and the confidence to share their message. It is also hard to imagine students without art, band, theater, business, agriculture, college courses, technology, library books, and extracurricular opportunities. They will be left with huge class sizes and barely the basics.

Consumer/Community Member: Losing your job is a horrible thing, and so many people in the community are suffering.

When a job is lost, many times the worker leaves the community to find new employment; unfortunately, that is what I, along with many other teachers, will have to do. The majority of my dollars are spent in Perham, Richville, and Ottertail. I love the small town personal attention I receive when I shop locally. Many times former students are my doctors, nurses, bankers, mechanics, servers, and clerks. I will have to leave a great community and school.

When I leave, so does my consumer dollar. Losing many teachers will have a negative economic impact on our community.

Parent: With my parent hat on, I look at District 549 as a wonderful place full of opportunities for my two sons, ages 14 and 12. There are extracurricular opportunities, talented coaches, incredible teachers, college credit/high school courses, and strong administrators; because of these great opportunities, my husband and I open-enrolled our boys from Battle Lake to District 549.

The boys are here because of what this district offered. If the levy fails, my sons will have large class sizes and will lose the above-mentioned opportunities. I imagine my husband and I will need to send our sons to Battle Lake next year, where their academic programs are strong, extracurricular programs are growing, activity fees are three times cheaper than District 549's, and class sizes are small. To be honest, I haven't come across a parent who hasn't made the same statement. When Battle Lake, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, and New York Mills are only minutes away, there are many choices for parents to choose from. For a long time, I worried about the students of parents who couldn't afford to send their children to other schools, but when each of those towns are willing to send a bus to pick up students, parents could choose to send their children to a school that offered programs they wanted. On any given day, you can see the New York Mills bus in Perham picking up students.

Doctor of Education: Twenty-five years ago, District 549 and former principal/superintendent Dennis Drummond, encouraged me to be the very best I could be. I believe this vision for education was a direct reflection of the progressive and excellent local community's business vision. It has been heart-breaking to watch students lose opportunities year after year. District 549, once a leader in technology for students, continues to fall behind. Just ask any student if the printer worked, if they had a computer, or if they could access the information they needed on any given day. Services for English Language Learners have been reduced. Para-professionals have been cut so that attention for Special Needs students is diminished. Counseling and career units have been reduced. Students K-12 have lost theater, FACS, drama, concert/marching/pep band, art, speech, language, agriculture, and business classes. Elementary and junior high extracurricular programs and high school academic extracurricular programs have been cut. There are no new books in our library. Trips to Washington D.C. and New York died, along with many local field trips and lyceums, all because of a lack of funding. All these opportunities make for well-rounded students, connect students to their school, create student leaders, engage students in community service, and create great candidates for college scholarships and productive future business owners and employees.

No matter what hat I wear or role I play in the community of District 549, education as we have known it is in jeopardy. Whether I look at the situations as a Doctor of Education, a parent, consumer, or teacher, the view is the same: All students need the guarantee that they will receive the quality of education they need to succeed in a very competitive job market. This year's levy, even in tough financial times, is a small price to pay ($5.67 per month on a $100,000 home). The children of District 549 are your sons, daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and my students. Your vote of "yes to the levy" could make the difference between providing a good education for our young people or setting them up for failure. If our students fail, how will our community fare?

Please vote "Yes" for the 549 Levy.

Sandra Wieser-Matthews