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Financial strain raises concerns of negative publicity for Perham schools

State education funding has not kept pace with inflation.

Adjusted for inflation, public schools are receiving $377 less per pupil than in 2002, according to Perham-Dent school business manager Kristi Werner.

This was one of several observations made during the "Truth in Taxation" presentation at the December 16 school board meeting.

The school is expected to have a $455,000 surplus in 2011-better than earlier projected, but far below that recommended by the state and the school's auditors. By most accounting recommendations, Perham-Dent should retain about $1.5 million in the unreserved fund balance-which is essentially surplus that is tapped for unexpected or additional expenses, such as a furnace failing.

In other financial notes presented by Werner:

--The building debt for both the Heart of the Lakes Elementary School and the Prairie Wind Middle School will be retired in 2014. This is good news for taxpayers, but doesn't directly relieve the school's pinch in terms of annual operating revenue. As it stands now, taxpayers will see a reduction in their taxes after the building debt is retired-but without the approval of an increased levy referendum, no new money will be generated for the school operating budget.

--There were 52 school districts that had a levy referendum this year, of those 41 passed and 16 failed-including Perham.

--The Perham-Dent school's operating budget will be $15.1 million for 2010-2011, reported Werner at the "Truth in Taxation" hearing.

As with most school board meetings in recent years, finances dominated the discussion.

"Negative publicity" associated with the school's two failed referendums and several million dollars in budget cuts is a concern for school board member Dave Schornack. He said he prefers the school to move forward with a positive outlook. Further, he believes the Perham-Dent schools should stay ahead of the changes that will be occurring in coming years-such as pairing and sharing staff.

"All the emphasis has been on cutting," said Schornack. "We need to invest more energy in finding money."

Board member Cyndy Huber suggested that the board seek revenue-raising ideas during upcoming board meetings and informational forums.

District resident Tom Meinhover, who has been an education advocate and organizer over the years, stressed the need to find new revenue sources.

"We can't focus just on budget cuts...and give away all the things we've worked toward for decades," said Meinhover.

He called for more creative energy in finding new money; and further called on everybody to put the pressure on administration to find new dollars.

Perham holding its own with enrollment

Perham-Dent schools are holding steady with enrollment.

"Our numbers are holding, and that's a really good sign, "commented school board member Mike Hamann at the Dec. 16 school board session.

The monthly enrollment report showed 1,414 students in grades K-12. That is up two from last month, and considerably higher than the administration's projection for the year.

School officials budgeted for 1,368 students before the year started. But enrollment has been nearly 50 above that number.