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With levy defeat, what's next

Cuts of up to $500,000 a year for the next several years face the Perham-Dent School Board, following the failure of the levy referendum last week, by only 124 votes.

"Dire," said Superintendent Tamara Uselman this week. "There's no other word for it-it is a dire situation."

A four day school week will be considered, in an effort to cut costs. This is harmful to students and harmful to the town, said Uselman, noting that when school is not in session-the town tends to be quiet, in terms of retail traffic.

Up to 14 percent of the teaching staff could be cut, said Uselman, at the Nov. 10 Perham Area Chamber of Commerce "Power Hour" meeting. Class sizes will be pushed up to the high 20's at the elementary school; and up to about 45 students per teacher in many high school classes.

Cuts of this scope have the most impact on 60 to 80 percent of the students-those who are average to above average academic performers. The kids with special needs are protected by federal requirements, said Uselman-adding that, ironically, the federal government mandates special needs classes, but doesn't fund them.

High-performing students, those who are naturally good at academics, will do fine, she said. But the large majority of students in the middle will "lose some potential" because of the cuts and reduction of teacher-student time, said Uselman.

"The school board doesn't have any choice but to cut from the list we order to steer this ship," said Uselman.

Advanced placement and college credit courses may be reduced substantially.

The good news about the Perham schools?

--Academic programs continue to be strong, reflected in improving test scores.

--Extracurricular activities continue to be successful, with a fall season that included a football team that survived into the second round of the playoffs, a solid volleyball team and boys and girls cross country teams that went to state.

--Enrollment is higher than projected.

"There are rumors out there that our enrollment is declining...and that students are wandering around the school like ghosts in an empty building," said Uselman.

Media attention is another concern. Perham has received "rather significant negative press from across the state," said Uselman. There is a danger that defeated levies paint a negative image of the school-that becomes self-fulfilling, with low community morale feeding a decline in enrollment.

Schools are built on the "three R's," said Uselman. Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic for students. But there are three different R's that establish the foundation for a good school, from an infrastructure and administrative standpoint: rigor, relevancy and relationships.

The decline in state funding, combined with the failure of the local levy, could have an impact on all six of the R's, fears Uselman.

School supporters urged to donate to Perham schools

"Yes" voters can make a difference in the Perham school's financial situation.

Though the levy referendum, which would have brought about $500,000 annually into the school's coffers, failed by a 1,746-1,622 margin, one Perham resident is pretending that the levy succeeded-in a sense.

Dave Niesen, city zoning and building inspector, is urging school supporters to donate the sum that the tax hike would have generated.

For a $100,000 home, taxes would have gone up about $68 a year, for example. So Niesen is asking school supporters to contribute that sum to the school.