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Perham-Dent School Board votes to go ahead with levy plans

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The Perham School Board is hoping "4" is its new lucky number.

After failing for the past three years, the board approved a resolution last Wednesday evening to move ahead with referendum plans.

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The current plan sets the levy for four years at $695 per student - a price tag board members say would help the school maintain current levels of operation.

Last year's referendum, which included three questions, sought $985.

Board members expressed their disappointment with the decreased $695 per student, but explained that, at this point, with the economy the way it is, their ultimate goal is to get what they can.

"At this point, with the economy and added struggle that a lot of our lake home owners are going through with water levels, I'm not sure this is the time we can go forward and ask them for more funding," said board member Sue Huebsch, standing up for the decreased amount.

The $695 per student would generate roughly $973,000 a year for the district. That's actually lower than the $1.2 million necessary to maintain current funding levels.

Bernie Steeves, who has spearheaded "no" vote efforts in the past, warned the board that what they're asking for is simply too much.

The price of the levy on a $400,000 home equates to $422 - a price Steeves said is too high to handle.

"I represent a lot of people with market value out there who are on fixed incomes," he said. "That's a lot of money."

Steeves suggested the board look at capping the levy on homes worth $500,000, where the levy would ask for $843 a year.

Huber expressed concern with that plan, as the funds that would have been spread out to home owners above the cap would trickle down to others whose values fell below $800,000.

"The cap would push it onto the lower people," she said. "We still need the same amount of money per pupil."

Steeves' concern for the cost to home owners didn't dissipate through the discussion.

"Make sure it (the levy cost) is real and it's something that we can really get to," he said.

Not everyone present at the meeting was wary of the board's decision to move forward. Pat Nordick spoke in support of the amount, saying he trusted the board to do the right thing. Dennis Happel echoed that sentiment, saying the school system plays a large role in community growth.

"I see it all the time, being involved in the community, the school is the first thing people want to look at," he said. "I think our school is one of the areas that is dropping behind industry, city, tourism. We still need to keep that school going - it's a big part of moving everything else forward."

Board member Myron Roe expressed his concern over what would happen if the levy does not pass.

"If you want a vibrant system, then you have to pay for it locally," said board member Myron Roe. "Ninety percent of districts in the state have a levy, we're one of the few that doesn't."

According to five-year budget projections, the district will see $61,846 in revenue over expenditures. If the levy does not pass, that number would drop to -$1.2 million by 2014-15.

The board acknowledged that things could certainly change, depending on what happens at the state level. In two years, the debate over the budget will once again be tackled. But, considering the state's reputation of stagnant funding, no one seemed too optimistic that an uptick in state funding is likely.

"Last year, we got lucky. We got a lot of one-time money that's going away," Roe said. "I think it's very doubtful that the state is going to do much."

In the case that the district did pass a levy, and state funding increased dramatically, board member Arnie Thompson said the board would have the option of decreasing the levy.

"As long as I sit here, we'll just take what we need," he said.

The levy, if passed in November, would kick in for the 2012-13 school year.

Polling locations

The board also approved three polling places that will be used in the November referendum.

The locations include the senior citizens hall in Dent, the community center in Ottertail and the Perham Area Community Center. Huber said the decision was made, as those polling locations are what are used in a typical off-year election.

"We're not reducing them at all in this resolution," she said.

Last year's referendum only included one polling location, in Perham.

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