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Referendum won't be on ballot Nov. 4 -- Frazee-Vergas dodges bullet

Frazee-Vergas residents won't vote Nov. 4 on whether to do away with a $1,000-per-student operating levy approved last year. The special levy is good for five years.

On the advice of its legal counsel, the school board earlier this month rejected a petition calling for the referendum question because it failed to meet all petition requirements required by Minnesota law.

The petition was supposed to have a summary paragraph on each page, to ensure that people knew what they were signing. And the wording was deemed vague and misleading.

District Judge Peter Irvine agreed with the school district, denying without comment the petitioners' legal request that the question be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The legal documents were filed on the Sept. 12 deadline day, by Ronald Hettich of the Aaland Law Office of Fargo. There were a great deal of last-minute efforts required by court administration workers to get the documents to the judge for review, but Irvine rejected the petition on its merits, not for deadline reasons.

Oscar Birkeland, a spokesman for the group that circulated the petitions and hired Hettich, said they will appeal Judge Irvine's decision. But they don't expect a resolution in time for the general election.

"It's not on the ballot," he said. "But it's not a dead issue."

Birkeland accused Irvine of having a conflict of interest in the case, since he is a former law partner with Frazee-Vergas school board member Rich Ziegler.

"The issue is done for this year," said Frazee-Vergas Superintendent Deron Stender. "We are proceeding with the knowledge that we have the referendum (revenue) for another year and will plan accordingly."

The school district has spent referendum money exactly as it said it would -- on curriculum, technology and infrastructure improvements, he added.

"People who think we don't need the revenue should come in and talk to the people who are most affected -- that being the students and school staff and teachers," Stender continued.

"Critics of the school district have never identified how we've spent money inefficiently," he added. "We're one of the most efficient school districts around -- we've reduced administrative costs well over 25 percent over two years."

For proof, he points to the "Minnesota Public Schools Salaries" site on the St. Paul Pioneer Press Web site. It lists salaries for administrators and teachers.

If you want to see for yourself how the district has spent the referendum money so far, there's an open house scheduled from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at both schools.

You can see the new boilers and improvements made to indoor air quality, and demonstrations of new SMART board technology, Stender said.

The open house will be followed by a school board candidate forum at 6 p.m. at the high school. The forum is sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

"We want people to come in and see exactly what their money is going for, and how it's affecting our kids and our programs," Stender said. "Come to the open house, and stay for the candidate forum."