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Another year, another Perham school levy vote

There's a distinct feeling of deja vu for supporters of an increased levy for the Perham School District.

Exactly one year later, the "Together for Kids" group is once again mobilizing a campaign to convince voters that an increased levy is necessary to operate the schools.

"Facebook" has been added to the campaign this year. Also, the "Together for Kids" committee is making a special effort to reach college students--Perham graduates who can vote absentee.

But this year, the Perham School Board and school administrators have scaled back the proposed tax increase--hoping the voters will find a "yes" vote more palatable.

Last year, the request was for about $700 a student--with a term of as much as 10 years. This year, school officials are asking for $395 per student, and the tax increase will be in affect only three years. In the third year, the situation will be appraised.

This levy will raise about $500,000 a year, depending on enrollment fluctuations. This is about half of the projected $1 million requested in 2008.

An honest, fact-based strategy is being deployed by the "Together for Kids" group.

"Positively defeat arguments" against the levy--that's how Bob Beseman describes the committee's approach.

"We don't want to take the scare tactic approach, but we will be factual and accurate about what will be lost, and what will be cut if the levy is not approved," said Beseman.

Describing himself as a staunch, fiscal conservative who isn't fond of taxes himself, Beseman has invested many hours examining the school's budget. He is convinced that the school needs an increased operating levy--just to limp along and offer basic education services.

After cuts of $3 million or more since 2003-04, there is simply nowhere in the budget to find more money. In addition, the Dent elementary school is now closed--which alone saved more than $100,000 in overhead costs.

Without a levy, class sizes will rise to 40 in high school, and up to 32 at the elementary school.

Further cuts will likely mean eliminating college-level and advanced placement courses--which have been a source of pride for the Perham district.

Increases in education funding are not likely to come from the federal government, said Beseman.

As far as Minnesota: "It's goofy to think the state is going to come up with more money," said Beseman.

Perham is one of the school districts that doesn't have an excess levy, noted Beseman. Nearly 90 percent of the districts in the state have special tax levys in place to raise additional operating revenue--and the average is about $825 per pupil.

Perham presently has a small levy, but it is equivalent to only $26 per student. This levy would be eliminated if the proposed $395 per student levy passes.

The proposed $395 per student levy would increase property taxes, on a $100,000 home, by $68 a year.

For a $250,000 home, taxes would go up $171 a year. For a $1 million home, the increase in taxes would be $684.

Even if the levy passes and the school gains another $500,000 a year in operating revenue, "it is really nothing more than a stop gap...We'll be in a disaster situation in three years," said Beseman.

By the 2012-13 school year, the administration will likely be in a deficit spending mode--even with another $395 per pupil levy.

Members of the "Together for Kids" group are scheduling informational meetings with various civic groups and voters.

"I'm willing to meet anywhere, any time, any place; and with any person or group--whatever it takes," said Beseman.

School Superintendent Tamara Uselman is also making appointments with organizations. As a paid administrator, she cannot "campaign" in support of the levy--but she can make presentations that illustrate the potentially dire financial situation the school faces.

"Anybody with a child from one month to 15 years old should be concerned about the levy vote. It is very important," said Beseman.