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LETTER TO EDITOR: Writer comments on extracurricular activities, Perham school levy

On August 19, I attended the School Board meeting where the levy was discussed. At that meeting, there were people there both for and against the levy. Several people were concerned about only one polling place.

I have to say, though, that the saddest comments I heard were from two people, one of whom is employed by the school, the other not. Both of these gentlemen made the statement that they would much rather have someone who was in extra curricular activities work for them than someone who was not. That statement was a major disservice to those students who do not have an interest in or time for extra curricular activities, or simply cannot afford it. Being in extra curricular events does not make one student better than another. It's the individual's self esteem and personal values that determines what kind of a person they are. I've hired many students who are not in extra curricular activities and were excellent workers and very likeable people.

Another statement made was that in this day and age, more is expected from students than in the "yesteryears".

I strongly disagree! When I went to school, we didn't have calculators in class. We didn't have computers in class (with spell check!). We were expected to figure out the math problems in our head or with paper and pencil. We were expected to write (long-hand) our papers and know how to spell. We were expected to know how to write! I believe the students of "yesteryear" had many more demands on them.

Now, as for the levy, I have had the opportunity to get information from the school and realized some very interesting facts.

Out of a budget of nearly $13,000,000.00, approximately 80% goes for wages ($10,400,000.00). I confirmed the percentage with the school. I also did some other figuring. At the meeting, we were told that approximately 70% of the students are in extra curricular activities and use about 3% of the budget. Of the reported 1,409 students, that comes to nearly 986 students and $390,000.00 of the budget for extra curricular. Now if you take the $390,000.00 and divide that by 986 students, you end up with $395.00 per student for extra curricular. I think it's quite a coincidence that the levy the school is now asking for is $395.00 per student totaling $500,000.00 per year. So what are we really paying for? Is it for the extra curricular, increases in salaries or to supplement the 17% left over for actual education? Of course out of that 17% come the utilities for the school, taxes, donations, membership fees to other groups, office supplies, cleaning supplies, school board members, etc. How much is actually used for education? I know the teachers are part of the education, but certainly not all of it.

I also obtained a list of the employees and their wages including coaching staff.

This information is available to the public. When comparing the lists, I found that there are at least nine paid coaches that have no other affiliation with the school except to coach. These nine people do not include the volunteers. The total salaries paid to the nine individuals total $32,617.00.

I do not see any money paid to the volunteers and in fact was told that fundraisers are done to pay them. I do, however, see that there are several husband/wife employees with combined salaries that exceed $100,000.00 for teaching and one or both are receiving additional funds for coaching.

The superintendent wage alone exceeds $100,000.00. I do not know if these gross salaries include benefits or if the benefits are in addition to the salaries. I do believe that if you took the extra curricular out, there really wouldn't be a need for a levy.

My point is that I, too, would like the students to get a good education, but the school has a budget of over $13,000,000.00 per year and they still need more????? I don't even want to think about what is spent on buses to take teams/fans to away games clear up in Roseau or Duluth or wherever plus paying the driver and motel bills. Yes, extra curricular activities are nice. But let's face it, it's like running a family budget. If you don't have the money to go out and eat, you simply cannot do it.

I believe that asking the public to pay out more on this levy is a sin when many of the public cannot afford much currently. I'm talking about the folks on fixed incomes. I'm talking about families where one or both of the parents have lost their jobs, retirees and people people whose homes have been foreclosed upon. It's also extremely unfair to the ma and pa resorts who are being charged on all of their land and buildings versus farmers who only pay on their home and one acre. Many of the surrounding resorts were not as fortunate this year as in previous years.

As a special note, remember that non-homesteaded seasonal recreational cabin owners don't pay on this levy either. Perhaps it is time to look at consolidating surrounding schools to better afford a good education for the children. Perhaps it's time to ask the teachers what they are willing to give up to provide a good education to the students. With the internet available to most, if not all, of the students, they have the opportunity to learn so many things on their own. There are many children, either in school or home-schooled, that don't participate in extra curricular activities and yet get into a good college.

For those of you who won't be able to drive into Perham on November 3, 2009 to vote, please be sure to write in to request an absentee ballot, fill it in and mail it back promptly, or go in early and vote absentee in person during the week. If you are against the levy and don't vote, you are essentially voting yes. I would like to encourage all voters to exercise your right to vote and make your voice heard. You can contact the Perham School District to verify the voting hours and absentee voting available to residents of the Perham School District.

Cheryl Harris

Richville, MN