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Little concern shown for school

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Had all six Blackduck school board members shown up, they'd have out-numbered the crowd at the public meeting last Thursday to learn about a proposed school bond referendum.

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Blackduck School Superintendent Robert Doetsch looked at the rows of empty chairs in the multi-purpose room in the Blackduck School building, then handed out a few sheets of information instead of the PowerPoint presentation he'd prepared.

A bucket hanging from the ceiling underscored the problem of a leaky roof. Fixing those leaks is a key part of the $830,000 bond issue voters will be asked to approve in the Aug. 10 election.

Saving the building's brick exterior with "tuck-pointing" would have cost $42,000 if it had been possible two years ago. The cost now, probably higher, has been included in bond calculations, along with the purchase of three new buses and a van.

Passage of the bond referendum will mean a tax increase but it would be spread over a larger tax base since seasonal vacation homes would now be included.

In answer to a question, Doetsch said a home with an $80,000 tax valuation would see an increase of $11 a year the first year, slightly less after that.

At the same time, Doetsch pointed out, the bill for a 1993 referendum will end in 2013 with a potential drop of more than $100 per year for that same home.

Apologizing for again repeating the dire straits in which the district now is in he again emphasized, "This is a bricks-and-mortar proposal. There is no money in it for teachers. The state is broke and owes us money. We had to borrow this spring because we haven't been paid, so we wind up paying interest."

Doetsch said the district has actual needs that come closer to $1.6 million. The heating system alone could come close to $1 million, he said. "There are some rooms that in the winter get close to a 100° in order to get others up to 63°."

"In 1993, the school put in a new sprinkler system to meet required safety standards in the event of a fire. Today," and he spoke directly to board members as he said this, "today I was informed that the system no longer meets code and we're supposed to replace it. That's another $160,000 the state says we have to spend while they hold on to the money they already owe us."

Another cost boost the state will now require is in the exhaust system on new buses. That will add as much as $12,000 to the price, bringing the cost of each bus to between $2,000 and $3,000, Doetsch said. Three are needed to replace aging vehicles that haul youngsters 1,100 miles to and from classes daily.

Federal and state financing for special education/special needs students has fallen behind more than $1 million in recent years, the superintendent told the small group present. "We're promised 40 percent by law and we only get less than half of that."

Board treasurer Larry Zea reiterated the situation faced by school districts throughout the state. "We're only getting 70 percent of what the state has promised and then we have to wait 90 days to get that. The state is broke, it needs the money, but they're using it at the expense of our kids."

Zea, board chair Dale Compton and members Mark Sparby and Grant Mistic were present for the special meeting. They sat with their backs to the stage, which from one end to the other was covered with books and other materials gathered for the school's upcoming garage sale.

It's not expected to balance the budget.

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