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New levy option on the table; Activities Director hired

The Perham-Dent School Board held a special meeting on June 6 to discuss budgets for upcoming school years and, in particular, a potential new levy that could bring additional revenue into the district.

Business Manager Kristi Werner reported that the district’s projected budget shortfall for 2014 is now closer to $800,000, down from the previously projected $1.2 million, due to changes enacted in the most recent state legislative session.

According to Werner, the “legislative impact” will be much stronger in the 2015 fiscal year, when the state begins to count students differently.

“We’re getting closer to the break-even point,” Superintendent Mitch Anderson said of the $400,000 decrease in the projected budget deficit.

Newly-enacted legislation also means that, in September of this year, the board will have the option to levy $300 per student for next school year, without voter approval.

The levy is classified as a “general education” levy – a kind of levy that was done away with under former governor Jesse Ventura in the early 2000s, Anderson explained in a follow-up interview. Now, school boards will once again have the authority to enact such a levy.

At the meeting, some board members were wary of the public’s perception of the potential move.

“If we do the excess levy, I don’t know that the public is going to be real receptive.  If we do it we’ll need to earmark what the increase is going for,” said board member Michael Hamann.

The increased revenue from the levy would most likely be used to fund teacher salaries and pay raises, said Jim Rieber: “That’s where 80 percent of the money goes. Be upfront with it – that’s where most of it goes.”

“The reality of it is, if you run a business, you have to give your employees a raise at some point,” said Chairperson Myron Roe.

In the past, the school district has had trouble attracting new teachers because the salary offered has been less than in other surrounding districts, Hamann said.

According to Anderson, first year teachers with no prior experience and a bachelor’s degree get a starting salary of $31,048 in Perham. By comparison, he said, Pelican Rapids starts their teachers at $38,030, Detroit Lakes starts at $33, 234, New York Mills at $34,343, and Battle Lake at $34,300 – all for teachers being hired directly out of college.

“I think we have hit a point where we’re not competitive as we look to hire,” Anderson said earlier this week.

The possible levy would last for five years. Board members will revisit the issue at future meetings.

In other news, board members unanimously approved the hiring of Erin Anderson as the district’s Activities Director and Student Success Coordinator.

Anderson will be filling two of the many roles previously performed by Fred Sailer, who retired at the end of the school year.

The position will essentially be a 50/50 split between the administrative role of the Activities Director and the teacher-like role of Student Success Coordinator, Mitch Anderson explained.