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Course of action on Dent school discussed by board

Closing the Dent elementary school has become one of several difficult options in the school system's continuing effort to firm up its financial footings.

Support for keeping the 62-student Dent school open was evident in several pleas, including an impassioned plea by longtime Dent teacher Rex Kingsbury.

"The closing of Dent was never on the official list of proposed cuts...and now its being considered seriously as an option," said Kingsbury, who was upset with the lack of communication. "I'm looking out for Dent kids, their families, and the community of Dent."

The Dent issue was discussed at the March 19 school board meeting. A coalition will be named to discuss options for Dent, including the prospect of alternative uses for the facility.

On the other side of the issue, a number of parents--who view the closing of Dent as a means of restoring funding for arts and educational programs--actually applauded in favor of closing the school.

At the last school board meeting, members put in motion a plan to form a coalition to study the issue. The panel would include representation from Dent residents and Dent school staff.

Enrollment in Dent slipped from 74 to 62 this year. Though only educated guesses at this point, enrollment projections for Dent call for a decline to 38 over the next four years.

Dent has been the target for closing several times in the past. Board member Dave Schornack said it was researched extensively ten years ago, and revisited since. He favored moving quicker toward moving Dent students to Perham's Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.

"I would rather find another use for the building...financially, this could drag on for years to come," said Schornack. "We need to bring this to a conclusion."

Board members and administrators, recognizing the sensitivity in the Dent community, differed on how--and how fast--to proceed with the Dent discussions.

"There are a lot more ramifications to this," said board member Mike Hamann, concerned that closing the Dent school could prompt parents in that area to send their kids to other districts. "We need to be respectful, and work out a fair way to approach this...Dent has been a part of the Perham school system since the 1960's."

"If we put this on too short of a timeline, we could lose half of our Dent kids," said Hamann.

The only board member from Dent, Dan Nodsle, was reserved in his verbal input but visibly stern in his appearance.

"We're pushing this Dent issue too fast," said Nodsle. He further added that the school is going to need "public trust" to pass a levy referendum next fall, and the Dent issue could alienate voters from Dent, Richville, Ottertail and surrounding townships.

Superintendent Tamara Uselman said that the school needs to "work with the Dent community, make them a part of the process...but there does need to be a time limit, maybe six weeks, maybe two months."

School Board Chairman Ron Berns said he expects updates from the Dent coalition at virtually every upcoming school board meeting.