A Fort Ripley man has started a grassroots campaign against the Brainerd School District's proposed $5.75 million operating tax levy referendum.
People Against the District 181 Referendum is the brainchild of Marv Begin, who started the campaign because he feels the school district has not been truthful about the need for a new operating levy, nor how much it will actually cost taxpayers.
He has until the Nov. 6 election date to convince people of his position.
"I believe in truth and I believe in fairness and the school has not been fair with the public here, that's one reason why I started it," Begin said. "Another reason is the poor do not have a voice and there are a lot of poor around here I have met that are having an awful time making it right now."
Begin's group has met five times at the Brainerd Public Library, most recently on Tuesday. Following a short introduction by Begin the loosely structured round able discussion featured numerous questions and comments from the 20 people in attendance - a few in favor of the referendum but most opposed.
If voters do not support the operating levy referendum, the district, which has cut $5 million from its budget including 42 teaching positions in the past four years, likely will be making its deepest cuts ever. If it doesn't pass, $5.5 million in budget reductions would need to be made before the 2008-09 school year. Among the cuts discussed: Two elementary schools would be closed, 18 of Brainerd High School's sports/activities would be eliminated and about 65-75 teaching positions district-wide would be cut.
It's what Begin refers to as a scare tactic.
"They're saying the same thing now as they did in 1997," when the school district held an operating levy referendum. "Don't believe a thing they're saying. If this levy fails, it will just force them to run this more as a business.
"And they'll always bring up the kids, 'Do it for the kids.' That's an old, old excuse - do it for the kids. They're using the kids as pawns. They've got the young parents so scared that they don't know what else to do but vote for this thing."
People in attendance questioned how the school district got into financial trouble when two years ago it was reported that finances were healthy, why the school wasn't lobbying the state more for education dollars, why senior citizens weren't exempt from the tax and why wages haven't been frozen.
Marv Begin of Fort Ripley (right) chaired the fifth People against The District 181 Referendum meeting Tuesday in the Brainerd Public Library. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd resident Phil Turnquist said with the way the levy is set up, he'll be paying almost five times more in the school portion of his taxes than he did in 1992. Turnquist said he's not against kids receiving a quality education, but he is against uncontrolled spending by the school board and administrators.
"Our school board, as well as others, just spend as if they won the mega lottery. They will if this referendum is passed," Turnquist said. "I am just sick and tired of all the bureaucratic fat cats that want their hands in my pocket do to as they wish. 'We got the money, now let's spend it' - that's been their theory.
Begin knows he doesn't have the time or resources of the school district to get his message out, but that doesn't mean he's not going to try. He encouraged those in attendance Tuesday to write of their opposition in an Open Forum to the Brainerd Dispatch and to talk to as many neighbors, friends and relatives as they can.
Begin also indicated he looked forward the Gordon Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government forum "Crunchtime: the School Levy Referendum," at 4 p.m. Monday at Central Lakes College, where he will be a panelist.
That forum will be followed up the next meeting of the People Against the District 181 Referendum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Brainerd Public Library.
"We have to get the word out, talk to other people. We don't have to change their minds if their minds are made up. We just have to get our point across," Begin said. "Hopefully we can get people to see things our way. Hopefully."
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