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Kudos to Stender for helping end reverse referendums

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Cheers to Frazee-Vergas Superintendent Deron Stender for his leadership in getting state law changed regarding reverse referendums.

School districts are in dire financial straits --and because of the way state funding is set up these days, they need excess operating levies to survive.

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At issue was a little-known provision that required school districts to put successful operating levy referendums back on the ballot, if presented with a petition from 15 percent of registered voters.

After a years-long struggle, the Frazee-Vergas School District finally got voters to approve an operating levy in 2007.

The school board had to jump through legal hoops to avoid putting the $1,000-per-pupil, five-year levy back on the ballot last year, when presented with just such a petition.

So this year, Frazee-Vergas school officials went on the offensive -- pushing lawmakers to amend the measure to require a petition signed by 50 percent, rather than 15 percent, of registered voters.

That was a bit much for Bud Nornes of Fergus Falls, the Republican representative who carried the bill in the Minnesota House. He told this newspaper he pegged the level at 30 percent when he introduced the bill.

That would make it more difficult, but not impossible, for levy opponents to meet the signature requirement, he said.

The Senate version was carried by Sen. Dan Skogen, a DFLer from Hewitt whose district (like Nornes') includes Vergas but not Frazee.

The measure succeeded beyond school supporters' wildest dreams, and took even the bill's sponsors by surprise: A Senate committee opted not to amend the reverse referendum provision, but instead to drop it entirely from state statute.

Nornes thought that would be the death of the measure, but instead it flowed easily through committees and the House adopted the Senate language in conference committee.

It was signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty as part of the omnibus education policy bill.

Thanks to Stender's efforts, school supporters across the state can breathe a little easier now: When voters approve an operating levy, they won't have to worry about it being yanked away a year or two down the road.

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