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Funding education: Searching for answers

Charles Halsted (bottom left), who said he will support the Brainerd School Dist

Marv Begin, as he led a meeting of a group opposed to the Brainerd School District operating levy referendum Nov. 8, said Thursday he believes there needs to be another way to fund education.

That is likely one thing school officials and Begin could agree on.

Eight people attended the first People Against New School Taxation Policies meeting at the Brainerd Public Library. Of those, three people said they are planning to support the Nov. 8 operating levy questions and vote yes.

Begin said he has nothing against teachers or school administrators, but questioned why the school district needed a “wage increase” during these economic times. He said teachers should not be asking for raises. The district is currently in contract negotiations with its teachers’ union, as well as the other union groups represented in the district.

“We’ve got to find another way to fund our school system,” said Begin. “These referendums are coming in every other year. It makes no sense. ... We need another way of bringing money to the schools. And the teachers have no business having wage increases this year.”

The last time the Brainerd School District asked taxpayers to support an operating levy referendum was in 2007, which failed to pass.

Others in the group expressed frustration that the district was asking for additional funds.

“Enough is never enough for those people,” added Al Tschida.

Carl Specht said he believed in education but teachers should not be asking for raises this year.

“I firmly believe if the teachers want more and better — just wait,” Specht said, referring to a better economy.

Charles Halsted, a retired school administrator, physical education teacher and coach, said he also agreed that there shouldn’t be any wage increases and he said he has spoken to teachers who also agree that now is not the time for such increases. However, Halsted said he will be voting yes.

“When I look at this, it’s not about raising money for individuals but they’re trying to prevent cutbacks if they don’t pass a levy,” said Halsted. “Yes, hold salaries but don’t cut programs.”

Halsted said he is concerned that activities will be taken away from students if the levy questions don’t pass. He said many students need these activities since it keeps them in school.

Begin said if every person was taxed the same and that amount was divided equally around the state per student, then Brainerd would be adequately funded without asking for additional taxpayer support. He said he would be talking to local lawmakers about this idea.

“I know a way the schools can make $300 million. Let the Vikings go,” said Specht, referring to a new stadium. “And I’m a Vikings fan.”

Ray Asmus said he would be approaching Congresswoman Amy Klobuchar with a proposal he has that everyone over the age of 70 would not have to pay school taxes.

“I take great offense to that,” said Connie Lyscio, a school special education teacher. “I would hope when my son graduates from college and then picks a community to live in, I would want to support my grandkids. Isn’t it important to pay it forward? Someone paid for you.”

“I’m 82, I’ve paid enough taxes,” responded Asmus, adding that he raised five children.

“I’m 82, too, and I’m going to pay my taxes for the schools,” added Halsted, who is Lyscio’s father. “There are a lot of young people a lot worse off than some seniors. I see seniors playing in the casino. They got an education and (some of them benefited) from the G.I. Bill, which was tax supported.”

Richard Magnan offered up examples of where he believed the district was squandering money. He said half of the administrators should be let go to save money.

Magnan and Asmus both said they’ve called the district when they’ve witnessed district-owned vehicles stopping at garage sales.

Several people, including those who said they would vote for the levy questions, agreed that the questions on the ballot seemed confusing as they were written. Passage of the second question is contingent on the first question passing. Lyscio said the district can’t be blamed for the wording since the district was required by law to have the questions written like that.

Specht said many of his retired friends will be voting no.

“My wife and I will be voting no, so our votes will be canceling out your two votes, I hope you know that,” Specht said to Halsted and Lyscio as he left the meeting.

On Nov. 8, district voters will head to the polls to answer two levy questions. The first question asks for a renewal of the existing $199.24 per pupil operating levy question, a 10-year levy. The second question asks for an additional $200 per pupil levy, a five-year levy.

According to the district, if both questions pass the average homeowner will see a $4.68 monthly tax increase, or $56.10 per year, on their school taxes, based on the average taxable market value of a home at $144,300.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.