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School levies: Perham-Dent voters reject, Pelican Rapids voters pass referendums

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PERHAM, Minn. - Voters here rejected a referendum Tuesday that would have given the school district an additional $695 per student for the next four years, leaving the district to stare down an annual budget shortfall of about $1 million.

Pelican Rapids schools narrowly avoided a similar fate Tuesday, with the district's $600 per-student levy passing with 54 percent of the 2,502 votes cast.

Of the 3,804 ballots cast in Perham-Dent, about 60 percent were "no" votes, said Superintendent Mitch Anderson.

He said the defeat of the referendum will mean a new round of budget cuts for a district that has already trimmed nearly

$4 million in the past eight years. The district is grappling with issues ranging from class sizes in the high 30s and low 40s at the high school to a shortage of textbooks to leaky roofs.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed," Anderson said. "There's certain areas where we have trimmed all the fat, and now we're going to be venturing into new areas."

He said the district doesn't have a specific list of cuts in mind.

The district was one of 114 across the state seeking a referendum Tuesday.

The referendum would have raised property taxes by about $105 per year in additional property taxes for every $100,000 of the value of eligible properties. The district said a $130,000 home - the average market value in Perham - would be assessed about $137 a year.

The district has now failed to pass an operating levy referendum in its past four tries. It has none in place.

The levy approved in Pelican Rapids is for five years, and will cost eligible property owners about $120 a year per $100,000 of the value of their property.

The district had failed in three previous attempts to pass a per-student operating levy. It is looking to close a budget gap of about $600,000.

In the past seven years, the district has made more than $1.8 million in cuts, slashing the equivalent of nearly 30 full-time employees and going to a four-day school week.

Elsewhere in the region:

Climax-Shelly voters overwhelmingly approved a 10-year renewal of the district's $1,931 per student levy. Of the 119 ballots cast, 115 were "yes" votes, according to Superintendent Norm Baumgarn.

The levy wasn't set to expire until next year, but Baumgarn said the school board decided to vote early to avoid a squeeze next winter.

Ada-Borup voters approved a 10-year renewal of $400.91 of the district's $891 per student levy. The measure drew 334 yes votes against 68 no votes, Superintendent Mike Kolness said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502