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Frazee asks for less cash

Once again, the Frazee-Vergas School District is attempting to pass an excess levy referendum on Nov. 7.

This time around though, the school board members have shortened the number of years, lowered the amount they are requesting and specified what the money will go toward.

"This is a different flavor," said Deron Stender, school superintendent.

"The school district does not have an expenditure problem, but revenue problems," he said.

This time around, the district is asking for $399 per student in the form of two questions on the ballot.

First question is for $125 to fund all-day, everyday kindergarten. The second, for $274, is for books, building maintenance and technology.

Last year, the school board tried to pass the referendum with money going into the general fund to be used for electricity, gas, salaries, etc. Stender said the public did not like that, which is why the money is going to specific items this time.

If approved, the excess levy will be authorized over a five-year period. In the past, the district proposed extending the life of the excess levy for several more years.

"We'll have a better picture in five years than 10 years," Stender said.

Voters won't have to worry about the money going for other unspecified items, Stender assured. He said the board has agreed to allocate the money to the specific sections of the budget.

While the ballots don't specify funds going to kindergarten, books, maintenance and technology, those are the most crucial areas that need the financial assistance and where the money will go.

Distinguishing those areas on the ballot is not allowed.

"We can't write it so the public can understand it," board member Nancy Dashner said the board was told by legislators. So, voters don't always know what they are voting for.

Like most area schools, a decrease in state support and declining enrollment are the main causes of financial difficulties.

Stender said Frazee-Vergas lost 20 students this year because it didn't offer all-day, every-day kindergarten. Enrollment is projected to decrease about 30 students per year for the next couple years, he said.

Classroom sizes are continuing to increase despite the decrease in students. What used to be low- to mid-20s classrooms are now housing mid- to high-30s.

"Education starts to diminish in value," if class sizes get too big, Stender said.

So what's the bottom line for taxpayers? For residential property valued at $100,000 -- only the residence, garage and one acre are taxed -- taxes will increase $24 a year with the passing of all-day, everyday kindergarten, and $52 with the passing of question No. 2, for a total of $76 a year if both questions pass.

"If they vote no, the public is telling us they want cuts," Stender said. "I don't know where they (cuts) are going to come from."

If the referendum doesn't pass next month, Stender said to plan on being at meetings again next fall because the board will keep trying.

But despite false fears, Frazee-Vergas School District will not dry up and go away.

"We're not closing. It's not even on the radar," he said.

Stender said Frazee-Vergas has a great facility, students, staff and community members and he'd like to see the pride building in the school system.

"I can give you 1,066 reasons I think it should be supported," Stender said.

A final public informational meeting is Thursday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Vergas Community Center.