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Paynesville Press - March 27, 2002

Getting the message out about education

By Michael Jacobson

School booth at expo Unlike last fall, school supporters this spring are making a determined effort to meet the public, discuss the district's financial situation, and explain the need for the school levy.

School board member Allen Schmidt (right) talks with people during the Farm and Home Expo on Saturday, just one place where residents can talk to school officials to discuss the upcoming levy and other issues.

A $415 per pupil levy will be put before voters on Tuesday, April 23, and before then school board members, district administrators, and other school supporters intend to meet with more than a dozen local organizations and hold two open hearings to educate the public.

What school supporters need to do in the next month, if the levy is to pass this time, is to persuade 200 people to vote for it, to erase the losing margin from last fall's vote.

"You get comfortable with what you know and you figure everybody else knows," explained Deb Glenz, the board's vice chair, of the failed effort last fall. "They didn't. There was lots of misinformation out there, or no information."

"I feel it's important to make ourselves approachable, to get out in the public because there's so much misinformation out there," agreed Tami Stanger, who is new to the board since the last levy vote, "not just about the levy, but school operations."

Last week, the school had a booth at the Farm and Home Expo, where school representatives discussed education matters with people visiting the event.

They also attended their first weekly session for Friday morning coffee at the Paynesville Area Center, but compared with the thousand people that attended the Expo, the turnout for coffee was disappointing, with four school representatives and only three citizens.

Janell Hoffman, director at the center, was disappointed with the turnout, which she organized to get information straight from district sources. Dialogue with school board members and school administrators will not only help inform the public but will help erase any mistrust that has formed, Hoffman feels.

"People were telling me things that weren't true," she said of her motivation for arranging the coffee sessions, "and it just was stuff that they'd heard from someone."

It will be hard to inform people if they don't attend the sessions, she said. "If nobody's here to hear it, what good is it going to do?" she wondered. "I think people need to be informed, and they're not trying to be."

Still, the school district has advantages over last fall to pass a levy this time, Glenz and Stanger agreed. First, the state's property tax reform is better known now, so information on the cost of the levy to taxpayers will be clearer. Last fall, said Stanger, "Nobody could tell you exactly what would happen with your taxes."

Also, the district's financial need should be better understood, especially with another round of budget cuts just completed.

A large part of the hit on school finances has been due to enrollment losses, and additional revenue would enable the district to offer programs to make its schools more competitive and better at attracting students from other districts, said Stanger and Glenz.

It also should alleviate the need for some future cuts and help to restore parts of the recent cuts, though not all because the district's declining enrollment necessitates accompanying spending cuts.

The district's statutory operating debt plan, mandated by the state, estimates the district will need to cut another $100,000 for 2003-04, another $200,000 for 2004-05, and $250,000 in 2005-06 and in 2006-07, if a new school levy isn't passed.

The proposed levy would generate $560,000 in 2003-04, which would alleviate the need for some of these future cuts and allow the district to restore some of the recent cuts, allowing the district to keep low class sizes and rebuild some of its extracurricular activities.

Informational Meetings
In preparation for another levy referendum on Tuesday, April 23, the school board and school supporters plan to hold a number of informational meetings with local organizations and groups. The first ones have already been held.

Here's the upcoming schedule of meetings:
Wednesday, March 27, 6:15 p.m. at Paynesville City Council at city hall
Monday, April 1, 8 p.m., at Paynesville Fire Department
Monday, April 1, 8 p.m., at Regal City Council
Thursday, April 4, 9 a.m., at Paynesville Ministerial Association at Nordland Lutheran Church
Sunday, April 7, 4 p.m., at Paynesville Community Club
Monday, April 8, 7:15 p.m., at Paynesville Township Board
Monday, April 8, 7:15 p.m., at Roscoe City Council
Monday, April 8, 7:30 p.m., at Paynesville American Legion Auxiliary
Monday, April 8, 8:30 p.m., at Lake Henry Lions
Tuesday, April 9, 12:50 p.m., at PAHS with juniors, seniors, and student council
Tuesday, April 9, 8:15 p.m., at Paynesville American Legion
Wednesday, April 10, 12 noon, at Paynesville Area Chamber of Commerce at Northern Lights Dining and Lounge
Thursday, April 11, 7:30 p.m., at an open hearing at the media center in the middle school
Tuesday, April 16, 7:30 p.m., at an open hearing at the media center in the elementary school
Fridays (from March 22 to April 19), 9 to 10 a.m., at the Paynesville Area Center

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