UPDATED: Perham-Dent levy fails
In its fourth attempt in four years, the Perham-Dent School District has failed to pass an operating levy referendum. In a 60-40 margin in a special election on Tuesday, voters nixed an additional property tax levy that would have added about $97...
In its fourth attempt in four years, the Perham-Dent School District has failed to pass an operating levy referendum.
In a 60-40 margin in a special election on Tuesday, voters nixed an additional property tax levy that would have added about $973,000 into the district's budget for four years.
The levy would have cost the average Perham-area homeowner about $137 per year in excess property tax.
Opponents of the referendum have said they disagree with the idea of property taxes as a means of education funding; they also don't want to (or can't afford to) pay more taxes in an already tough economic climate.
The implications of this on the schools, said Superintendent Mitch Anderson, will be substantial.
As polling stations were being taken down and final numbers counted on Tuesday night at the Perham polls, the mood among district representatives and supporters was somber.
"We'll need to lick our wounds for the next few days to get through this initial disappointment, but the school board will forge ahead with the same budgeting process they've used for the last three years," said Anderson. "They've got a budget they need to meet... knowing they're going to be $973,000 less than they hoped for. "
Without the referendum dollars, the school district predicts a deficit of more than $600,000 by the end of next year. By 2014, that deficit is up to $1.2 million.
Consequentially, there will be cuts across the board.
Anderson said the unfortunate thing is, "most of the fat's been trimmed at this point," meaning the board will need to look at cuts and reductions in areas that have been "protected" in the past, such as cuts at the elementary school, reductions to transportation, and four-day school weeks.
"The board will be forced to look into some spots that we really didn't want to look into," he said. "We need to have discussions on every revenue enhancer we can come up with and every cut we can make."
"On the positive side," he added, "we have a very resilient staff and students alike. They've been through this before, and they continue to work hard and keep up the good fight and do the best job they can."
The majority of school districts in Minnesota either already had or were seeking levy referendums this fall, citing inadequate state funding as the primary reason.
Over the last eight years, Perham-Dent has cut nearly $4 million from the budget to make up for its revenue shortfall. Staff has been reduced, fees have been increased, and programs like middle school art have been eliminated.
As one of the few districts in the region that does not have any sort of voter-approved levy in place, Anderson and school board members have expressed fears that Perham-Dent will not be able to stay competitive with nearby school districts.
New York Mills, for example, has an existing levy of $450 per pupil, and on Tuesday voters passed an additional levy of $75 per student for technology. Wadena, Sebeka, Frazee, Parkers Prairie and West Central Area all have levies of $800 or more per pupil. Battle Lake, Pelican Rapids and Henning joined Perham-Dent at the polls this week; Pelican Rapids and Henning voters passed levies, while Battle Lake residents voted theirs down.
So will the district try again next year?
"Unless there's a change from the state," said Anderson. "There's no choice but to have that talk and decide."
Election results will be canvassed at a school board meeting on Monday.
Final results of the Perham-Dent vote, by polling place, are as follows:
- Perham Area Community Center: 1,031 yes, 1,099 no. (Includes Perham and Richville and the townships of Butler, Corliss, Gorman, Hobart, Otto, Perham, Pine Lake, Rush Lake and Evergreen).
- Dent Senior Citizen's Hall: 284 yes, 721 no. (Includes Dent and the townships of Candor, Dead Lake, Dora, Edna, Maine and Star Lake).
- Ottertail Community Center: 58 yes, 247 no. (Includes the city of Ottertail and townships of Amor, Leaf Lake and Otter Tail).
- Absentee ballots: 147 yes, 217 no.
Final tally: 1,520 yes, 2,284 no - a difference of 764 votes.