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Frazee-Vergas voters pare down school board race

Outspoken critics of the Frazee-Vergas (Minn.) School Board and administration were faring well late Tuesday in a rare primary election to fill openings on the board.

Ten candidates squared off over four seats up for grabs on the School Board. A fairly unusual occurrence statewide, Frazee's was the only school board primary held this summer in Clay, Becker, Wilkin, Otter Tail and Norman counties.

Only the top eight vote-getters will advance to the general election.

With the vote counting not yet complete late Tuesday, it appeared the following candidates were heading for the Nov. 2 general election with the following percentages of the vote:

Incumbent Richard Ziegler, 22.4 percent; Matt Bauer, 16.9 percent; James R. Nelson, 14.7 percent; Kenny Fett, 14.6 percent; Kevin N. Litzau, 5.6 percent; Mary K. Lepisto, 5.8 percent; Christopher Dean Wacker, 5.1 percent; and Brenda Como, 5 percent.

Incumbent Donald Thorp, with 4.9 percent of the vote, and Carey Alger, with 3.7 percent, had the fewest votes and it appeared they could be out of the running.

The buildup to the primary was dominated by calls for change and jabs at the 930-student district's leadership. Some said the election would double as a referendum on the district's current direction.

Frazee-Vergas has seen its share of turmoil since 2007, when an operating levy passed on the fifth try. The following years saw a failed attempt to repeal the levy and a failed attempt to cut several teaching positions, which soured an already strained relationship between the administration and educators.

The tensions culminated in a contentious teacher contract negotiation, complete with two visits by a state mediator and a $25-per-pupil state fine. The prolonged negotiation and the swift recent approval of a new contract for Superintendent Deron Stender became fodder for board challengers.

Incumbent Thorp found himself defending the district leadership in candidate debates. He and other board members said the district has maintained high test scores amid statewide financial pressures on schools.

Fellow incumbent Ziegler often broke with the majority on the board and voted against Stender's contract renewal.

Minnesota districts can opt to host primaries if at least two candidates turn up for each open spot.