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Perham schools to shoot for third levy

After two failed attempts, the Perham-Dent School Board has decided to take yet another stab at a levy referendum this November.

Hoping that the third time will be a charm, the board is looking to present this levy to the public in a different light. Instead of focusing on what will be lost if the levy doesn't pass--which is an undeniable consequence of yet another levy failure--there was discussion about trying to approach the levy with a "what you can get" type of an attitude.

It's clear the district is in desperate need of some additional aid, with the current hard freeze on the wages of teachers in the district. Over the course of five years, $3 million has been slashed from the school's operating budget. At this point, the levy is really more of a 'must' than a 'plus.'

Still, Perham-Dent School Board member Arnie Thompson said he wants the community to understand that the district wants to make forward progress, not just stay the same. In a historically forward-thinking city like Perham, this is a concept citizens are familiar with supporting.

The only problem is, when it gets right down to the numbers, the school has already cut out many of the 'extras.' There's little left to sever without further hampering student learning. Even the most sacred of school district concerns, like class size and core classes, are being threatened by the past several years of budget tightening.

Although the goal of the school board is to continue making forward progress, it will be difficult to determine if there are any financially viable ways to make this happen. The major problem with this strategy is that the levy amount would need to be reflective of this desire to offer additional services. It is uncertain, especially considering the past two failed levies, if the community would be willing to support such a strategy.

Last year, the school district went for a $395 per pupil increased tax levy, which was defeated by a narrow margin of 1,746 to 1,622. The levy would only have extended three years. In 2008, the school board asked voters for $695 per pupil, for up to 10 years-a request that was soundly defeated.

These levies would have provided some much-needed operating revenue for the Perham Public Schools.

Despite the history of unsuccessful levy attempts, there's still plenty of hope that this year's levy might have a chance at passing. A couple of school board members mentioned receiving calls from citizens, who specifically asked them to support a levy for this November.

At the school board's May 19 meeting, the board officially passed a motion to go for a levy this fall. The board and school administrators are once again in the beginning discussion stages of how to best prepare for levy number three.