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LP-A officials upset with absentee ballot application form sent out by Informed Taxpayers Group

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An absentee ballot application sent to Lake Park-Audubon residents by opponents of a new school led to words being exchanged between "no voters" and school officials at a regular school board meeting Monday.

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The Informed Taxpayers Group, which is opposed to plans for a new school, paid to have a letter and absentee ballot application inserted into a recent Becker County Record to be delivered to homes in the LP-A district.

The ballot application had the school district's address stamped across the top of it, leading people who didn't read the material carefully to conclude that it came from the district, said Superintendent Dale Hogie.

And the absentee ballot application -- downloaded from the Minnesota Secretary of State's Website -- lacked the correct option regarding the type of election.

People seeking absentee ballots can check boxes on the application form marked primary election only, general election only, or both primary and general election. But the school district is adding a "special school district election" box to absentee ballot applications it distributes.

As usual, the school district will administer the special election.

It will provide absentee ballots requested through those flawed ballot applications inserted in the Becker County Record, Hogie said. After all, there's only one school district election this year, so it's obvious why a voter wants an absentee ballot, he said in an interview.

George Kohn, who spoke on behalf of the Informed Taxpayers Group, said the ballot his group distributed came directly from the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office, which did not offer the "special school district election" option for people to mark, even when he asked about it.

"I called the state -- they said people had to check the "general election" box," he told the board. "It's their mistake, not ours."

He noted that he and others had met with Hogie and a school secretary on Oct. 8 and talked about plans to distribute the absentee ballot, so it should not have taken anyone by surprise.

And the anti-building bond letter was clearly signed by the group, so anyone who read it would know it didn't come from the school district, he added.

A lot of people don't read things carefully, and some have accused the school district of sending out the flawed ballot applications in a bid to derail the "no" vote, Hogie said in an interview.

The way the ballot application form was distributed, stapled to the letter, led to a handful of phone calls to school staff and "caused a great deal of anger and confusion in the community," he said at the meeting.

Hogie told Kohn that the district would not run the material "in this format" in the Raider, the district's newsletter.

That, in turn, made Kohn angry. At the end of the meeting, when the public had a second chance to speak, Kohn addressed the matter again.

"I don't know quite how your thinking goes, Mr. Hogie," he said, "When we had this absentee ballot, you saw it and so did (a school secretary)."

That was on Monday, Oct. 8, and the ballot applications were already printed and ready to be inserted into newspapers that Wednesday.

Kohn then said that updated ballot applications, with the proper "school district election" box added, have been printed for paid insertion into the Raider newsletter.

The format change was news to Hogie, and he told the group so at the meeting, adding that if the extra box is added, and if the group's letter is not stapled to the ballot, the district has no problem running the material in the Raider.

The district is legally obligated to accept ads, including those from the Informed Taxpayer Group.

Kohn also wanted to make sure he would be allowed to get the unofficial election results as soon as the ballots were counted, rather than having to wait until the board certifies the vote the next day.

"Why would you think you wouldn't be able to get them?" Hogie asked.

"The district tried that one in the past -- under (former Superintendent Steven) Twitchell," Kohn said, adding that he had been forced to spend an hour getting the Secretary of State's Office involved before he was allowed access to the unofficial results.

"Has that ever happened since I've been superintendent?" Hogie asked.

"No, not since you've been superintendent," Kohn said.

Kohn was one of a dozen or so (opposition voters) to attend the meeting.

Also at the meeting on Monday, the board agreed to hold two public informational meetings before the Dec. 18 building bond referendum.

The building bond presentational meetings will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 26 at the Audubon Elementary School and Dec. 4 at the high school in Lake Park.

Election judges were also appointed. At the Lake Park precinct, they will be: John McGovern (head judge), Alice Raknerud, Marj Johnson, Mary McDaniel, Barb Schauer, Claudia Hanson (half day) and Norma Nelson (half day).

At the Audubon precinct, they are: James Renslow (head judge) Barbara Bakken, Susan Johnson, Tiffany Walz, Marita Erickson and Carmen Walter.

In other action, the board:

? Approved varsity baseball and softball programs for next year.

As school Board Member Dale Binde pointed out, the move to varsity programs was anticipated when junior varsity programs were set up two years ago -- provided the numbers of participants justified the move.

The baseball program has proven quite popular and younger students have had to be turned away from the junior varsity program because there weren't enough coaches to handle them all, Hogie said.

Girls softball has not been quite as popular, but he believes the interest is there at both the high school and junior high level to make the program successful. The district needs to approve both programs to stay in line with sports equity rules, he added.

The board approved both programs and agreed to advertise for assistant coaches for the two new programs. Assistant coaches are generally paid $2,400.

The board also agreed to dismiss school at 1:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, if the LP-A football team continues to play well and is in the section finals at the Fargo Dome that day.

? Accepted the low bid of $12,573 from Tweeton Refrigeration for replacement of a walk-in cooler/freezer at the Audubon School. There were two other bidders.

The existing freezer, an older model with interior walls reinforced by wood, has bulged and broken the freezer's seal. The district will use health and safety funds to pay for the new unit, to be installed over Christmas break.

? Hogie reported that an offer still stands from Loren Jetvig to donate 59 acres for a new high school in Lake Park. That includes 53 acres for the high school site and six acres for a street from the school to Highway 10. The land is across Highway 10 from the Lake Park Cenex.

The land donation is worth about $500,000 and Jetvig is reviewing the agreement and "does have the intention of signing that again," Hogie said.

? The LP-A district will consider contracting with a private company for background checks of new employees. The district has been relying on Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension background checks, but they can miss some out-of-state information, Hogie said.

"We have not had a situation in LP-A, but there is a school district in our (eight-state) region that did have a person that is a sexual predator that slipped through the screening process," he said. That district is not in this area.

? The district agreed to pay Rollie King of Frazee ("The Bat Man,") $2,000 to eliminate problem bats in a mechanical room, gymnasium and other parts of the Audubon building. Bats have been a recurring problem there.

? Hogie reported that replacement costs for the two LP-A schools are pegged at $27.8 million in a new insurance report, should they be lost to a tornado, fire or other disaster.

"The idea of the report was to just give us an idea if we are properly insured," he said.

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