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DL School Board levies full amount

Recommendations aren't always binding and in tough times, the Detroit Lakes School Board decided more cash was needed.

The School Board went against the recommendations of its Finance Committee and the administration in approving by a 5-1 vote a maximum levy of $3.7 million. Terri Boyd cast the lone dissenting vote.

The recommendation presented to the board called for a levy of $3.4 million, leaving $250,000 on the table. The district's levy includes authority that it has on its own and a $457 per pupil levy that voters approved in November.

Boyd said her vote to not certify that maximum levy comes down to what the needs are for the district.

"The question is how you define needs," she said. "Once you define it, then you can do what's necessary to fulfill those needs."

She said that the Finance Committee, of which Boyd is a member, determined that the $3.4 million levy would suffice.

On the flip side of the equation, Board Member Dr. Tom Seaworth questioned why the district wasn't trying for the max.

"I'm very uncomfortable with this," said Seaworth, a statement he made several times during the Truth in Taxation hearing held during the regular board meeting.

Seaworth said that with all of the needs in the district, leaving money on the table doesn't seem to be the right option.

"Sometimes we've come up short in the past, especially in difficult times, when we haven't used the full referendum authority," he said.

The rationale behind not levying for the fully allowed amount was that the administration thought it could get by without the $250,000, said Business Manager Ted Heisserer.

"We're going to get some additional compensatory aids next year," he said. "We've looked at our enrollments and we think this is going to come pretty close to covering it."

Board Vice-Chairman David Langworthy said his initial reaction questioned why the administration didn't want to levy for the maximum amount.

"We are showing good faith to the taxpayers by not overextending," he said.

Seaworth responded by restating his position that the money is needed.

"We shouldn't take it if we don't need it," Seaworth said. "There are needs here."

He said that the district's foreign language programs have been decimated and there are still other needs.

"We're inadequate as a district," he said. "Is this not an opportunity to fix some of the things we used to have?"

Rossman Elementary Principal Sandy Nelson said the school always has needs, when asked by Seaworth.

When hearing Nelson's response, he said that the administration should have a plan to address needs even before the decision to levy is brought before the board. Nelson's answer, he said, makes him even more uncomfortable.

Ultimately for Seaworth, he said his decision comes down to what's best for kids.

"I'm not sure I'm right, but I'm uncomfortable," he said.

Boyd said that certifying a lower levy amount would show good faith to the voters who overwhelmingly approved the increased operating levy authority.

As a parent of a school-aged child, and the operator of an in-home day care, she said she sees the needs of the kids, but the parents' needs have to be taken into account as well.

"If they're hurting, it's hard for them to be there for the kids," she said.

The levy goes toward covering expenses for the 2010-11 school year.

A proposed budget will be brought before the School Board in the next few months.

"We'll bring a budget to you soon," Heisserer said. "What we're waiting on is to get the labor contracts settled up and we'll get more information to you."

The unknown in all of this is what the state will do to plug a $1 billion budget deficit in the current biennium that goes until June 2011. Legislators and the governor will have to come up with a plan to plug that hole.

In other action, the board:

-- Approved an agreement to allow Pepsi to sponsor a banner of the boys' basketball team that will be hung from rafters in Ralph Anderson Gymnasium.

The agreement to allow the Pepsi logo to appear on the banner will be allowed for this school year only and a permanent policy will be proposed at a later time.

--Approved a lease agreement with Minnesota State Community and Technical College for space at the M-State-Detroit Lakes campus for the Adult Basic Education program. The district will pay M-State $9,000 annually.

The lease lasts until June 30, 2012.

-- Went into closed session to discuss negotiations with teachers on a labor contract. The teachers are working without a contract.

The district faces a Jan. 15 deadline to reach a deal. The district will be fined $25 per pupil, totaling more then $70,000 based on current enrollment if a deal isn't reached by then.

More than 50 teachers showed up during the start of the School Board meeting as a sign of solidarity.