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School levy hike debate will be brought to public Aug. 19

More steps were taken to both cut costs and prepare for another tax increase vote, as the Perham School Board struggles with its bleak financial future.

Families will pay more next year to participate in sports and extra-curriculars, following action by the school board July 21.

In addition, the board called for an important public meeting to gather input on the tax levy referendums that will be on the ballot November 3.

As it stands now, voters will be asked to approve a $695 per student increase levy--which is estimated to raise about $1 million a year for five years.

Without a levy increase, the school will be facing deep cuts of more than $1 million by the 2011-12 school year, said Superintendent Tamara Uselman. Even if the levy increase passes, budget cuts are anticipated, said Uselman.

Board members already have cold feet about a levy increase vote--fearing it will fail like it did in November of 2008, when a $1 million a year, ten-year levy hike lost by a 4,054 to 1,911 vote.

One of the big concerns by voters at the time was the ten-year span of the levy increase. This time, the board reduced it to five years--in hopes of making the measure more attractive to voters.

Board member Dave Schornack suggested that the board discuss the entire matter further, and consider different options such as a lower sum, or fewer years.

"We have to get something passed," said Schornack, even if it is a lower total levy--or fewer years. "It's better to have that discussion now, rather than in December after it fails."

Board member Mike Hamann suggested a "multiple choice" approach on the ballot, which might offer several scenarios--such as $600,000 a year, as opposed to $1 million.

Board Chairman Jim Rieber called for a major public meeting, August 19, 6 p.m., at city hall, in order to gather the most varied public input.

"We have to open it up to the community--tell us what you think; give everybody a chance to speak," said Rieber. "We don't want just a swell of people with one opinion....There is a sea of people in the middle that we're not hearing from."

Cuts in the activities programs of more than $30,000 were approved; along with an increase in fees to families. Key components include:

---Eliminating one varsity football coach assistant and a science-research coach, for a savings of nearly $5,000.

---Cutting a half-time clerical position, for a savings of $16,050.

---Athletic travel cuts totalling $5,500.

Under the new fee structure, rates for 7-8 grade youth in extra-curricular programs were increased from $40 to $50 per student, per program. Students in grades 9-12 will be charged $100, up from $75 last year.

There will be a cap on total cost to a family at $350. Last year, the "not to exceed fee" was $350 per family.

These activity fee adjustments are expected to increase the price families pay by $7,000 a year.

Last year, participation fees totalled $34,536. Meanwhile, ticket sales at events totalled $57,511, noted Activities Director Fred Sailer.