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School taxes to rise

The third time's the charm in the Fergus Falls (Minn.) School District. After two previous failed referendums, voters approved a tax increase Tuesday to help fund school facilities improvements by 3,666 to 2,358, or 61 percent, in complete but un...

The third time's the charm in the Fergus Falls (Minn.) School District.

After two previous failed referendums, voters approved a tax increase Tuesday to help fund school facilities improvements by 3,666 to 2,358, or 61 percent, in complete but unofficial results.

"It's just a great feeling that the community believes in us and trusts in us," said Jerry Ness, School District superintendent, adding that the successful referendum validates the process the district went through.

A task force of educators, businesspeople, farmers and parents came up with the $32.5 million facilities plan, which will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $166 a year for the next 20 years.

The plan includes an addition at Cleveland Elementary School to accommodate grades three through five.

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The middle school will be remodeled and an addition will be built to make way for classrooms, a music room, a gym and an office area. That building will house a 6-8 middle school on the lower level and a 9-12 high school on the upper level.

The high school will be remodeled into office space. Some of it will be used for vocational and gym classes.

Architects and construction managers will now design the project. Construction should start about this time next year, Ness said.

Voters defeated building referendums in 2001 and 2005.

"Now we can move on with positive things and not worry about what we're going to do over the summer," Ness said. "We know what we're going to do; we're going to build."

The high school was built in 1951 and the middle school in 1969. Ness said neither has had any major updates.

Because the buildings are so old, the School District has used its entire maintenance budget and $650,000 out of the general fund for the current budget year for facility upkeep, Ness said.

The district is deficit-spending and the School Board made $1.8 million in budget cuts this spring.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

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