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Together for Kids

This will be a year of big decisions at the ballot box for East Otter Tail voters:

---A heated presidential race on the national level

---State House Rep. Dean Simpson won't be running again, so his seat is up for grabs

---Perham school voters will be voting on whether or not to increase the levy to replenish the operating budget

"Together for Kids," a non-profit group dedicated to promoting a "yes" vote to the levy proposal has mobilized, and expects to grow from its nucleus of 15 to more than 100 active campaigners, according to Pat Nordick, who spoke at the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce "Power Hour" networking meeting June 10.

"Absolute necessity" is how Nordick described the need for more school operating funds. "Together for Kids" has concluded that administrators and the school board have made all the cuts possible, and that further cutting will have a "profound negative impact" on the school--and on the region, said Nordick.

Since 2004, nearly $2 million has been cut from the budget.

Declining enrollment is a factor in the reduction of various state aid revenues.

Enrollment in Perham -Dent has not dropped catastrophically. In fact, numbers in the lower grades suggest that enrollment will be stable in coming years.

Enrollment is projected to be down 36 next year, said Superintendent Tamara Uselman, who spoke to a group of about 35 Chamber of Commerce members.

The problem with even modest enrollment declines is that the losses are spread across 12 grades. Consequently, it is seldom as simple as cutting a teacher in one class or grade--without dramatically increasing class sizes.

"The big expense in the school business is always people," said Uselman.

Staff has been cut extensively, but administrators have strived to avoid cuts to teaching positions. Rather, support staff and administration has been cut first. Custodial staff have been cut, and the department was reorganized under one director--rather than a lead custodian in each building. The Dean of Students position has been eliminated. Present Dean Scott Bjerke will become principal of the middle school.

Meanwhile, elementary principal Kim Grengs has announced her resignation, as she has accepted a position in Farmington. The school board hasn't ruled out the possibility that the principal won't be replaced, and it will come under a "shared" administration arrangement.

At least five teacher aid (para professional) positions have been cut, and more will likely follow.

A "yes" vote would bring more than $1 million into the district annually, said Uselman.

For a $200,000 home, the increase in taxes would be about $20 a month. For a $400,000 home, $40 a month. For a $2 million home, the tax hike would be the equivalent of about $200 a month.

Already, the "Together for Kids" group has raised $10,000 for the "vote yes" campaign. By late summer, the group will be moving in high gear.