Letters

Letters The better choice

To the editor:

The citizens of the Vermillion School District will be voting Tuesday, March 15, on an $800,000 tax opt-out for five years. The district�s financial shortfall is due to a variety of reasons including declining student enrollment and insufficient school aid from the state.

When an issue that effects taxes comes up, there are usually two main questions people have: 1. How much will my taxes increase? and 2. Why can�t the school district continue to cut to meet their expenditures?

For a homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000, the tax bill will increase by about $190 per year. As far as more cuts, the board has already trimmed over $1 million from their budget in the past four years; any more would further drastically reduce the quality of education we are offering our future leaders.

Our situation in Vermillion is not unique, over 100 school districts in South Dakota have already voted on an opt-out, and approximately 90 have passed. Obviously we are not the only ones having to make these tough decisions.

I will support the Vermillion School Board and PTA on the opt-out, and ask all citizens to do the same. Financially, it will be a sacrifice for all of us, but is a better choice than the alternative our kids face.

Thanks,

Keith Brooks

Vermillion

Choices

To the editor:

Recently I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. I was told that this person agreed with everything I said in my last letter except the title and the last paragraph.

I told my friend the title was not written the way I wanted it. What I titled it was "To opt out or not to." I was then told that was a better statement. I also told this person it was his privilege not to agree with me, he had the right to believe the way he wanted to and so did I.

As far as the last paragraph I told him that I didn't understand because we have to make academics first regardless of how we vote. He said may be it was the second to the last paragraph were I said vote no to opting-out.

I need to point out what I said was I would be voting no to opting-out, because I would not say that the cuts that have been made by the school board and the administration are all right. That is what I feel voting yes will be saying if we don't agree. I feel very strong that by voting yes to opting-out is giving them the permission they need to keep doing what they are doing.

Instead of raising taxes why don't we ask state legislators where the money for the lottery goes? I am old enough to remember one of the things the money generated from the lottery was going to be used for and it was for school revenue. There is no one who will really tell you where it goes to.

The bottom line is we need to make the policy makers accountable and no

matter which way the vote goes make those same policy makers realize we do not need all the frills. They need to put academics first otherwise we need to get rid of those policy makers.

My way of showing my disapproval is by voting "no." My reasoning is not because I want to see the education of the children suffer, but to say there are other ways to get the education the children need without raising taxes.

We property owners are the ones that will have to pay the taxes. In turn if you are a landlord you are going to have to raise rents to absorb this. If you are a retailer, you too are going to have to raise prices to absorb this.

When you are paying rent or shopping you all need to remember this. If you are a farmer can you say I need X amount for my goods to pay my taxes or I won't sell? I don't think so and just because taxes go up are you going to get what you need for your product? I don't think so, because most of you are not getting what you need now.

If you are a person living on a fixed income or a single parent family or just plain anyone are you prepared for the things that are going to raise in prices besides your taxes?

I feel so strongly about this matter and have given it much thought. I have also been told if you feel this strong why don't you go to school board meetings?

My answer is would you really want me there? I have too many feelings to go and say what I think. I would be escorted out. The best way to express myself is by writing how I feel.

We in the United States are very lucky. We have the freedom to vote and to hear our voices heard. No matter how you vote let's see a voter turn out at the polls.

Respectfully submitted,

Roxan Brown

Vermillion

Support our future

To the editor:

As parents and property owners within the Vermillion School District, we fell compelled to write this letter urging the Vermillion community to support the opt-out scheduled for March 15.

As parents we feel very fortunate that our daughters have had the opportunity to attend school in such a progressive district. Unfortunately, over the past four years we have witnessed gradual erosion within the academic programs that the district has been able to offer due to "budgetary" constraints.

The most significant cut that impacted our family was within the arena of gifted education. Our eldest daughter was able to participate in the gifted program from elementary school throughout middle school. Our youngest daughter participated from elementary school until sixth grade � when the program was eliminated. Because of the gifted program our children were challenged to reach academic goals that are not possible within the standard classroom of 20-25 children.

Indirectly, we strongly feel that the influence of the gifted program in our eldest daughter's early academic life was a cornerstone in the building of her undergraduate education. Now that program no longer exists, and many of our gifted students are not being properly challenged to reach their full potential.

We would also like to thank Mrs. Zimmer and Ms. Rider for their recent letters. We have been blessed to have both our daughters receive instruction from these very dedicated educators. We also agree with their comments. The opt-out is not a solution, but a temporary fix. The school board should not consider any more cuts that directly impact students ��those cuts have been deep enough.

Has the board considered assessing student use fees for "extracurricular" activities? Has the board considered charging a nominal fee for entrance into music programs (at least to help cover the cost of utilities and custodial staff)? These are also questions that should be considered before further teaching positions are eliminated.

Vermillion is an excellent school district. The only way we can continue to provide a quality education is to fund it. Currently that funding is grossly inadequate from the state, so we must find an alternative way to support our future (our children). We urge you to vote yes for the opt-out on March 15.

Randy and

Mary Isaacson

Vermillion

Support our students

To the editor:

When deciding whether to vote yes or no on the opt-out March 15, we would like all of you to consider the following.

The solution to the budget shortfall cannot be accomplished by simply cutting administrative costs and extra co-curricular activities (sports, music, fine arts, math and science clubs, etc.). The administrative costs (including all support staff) is only about 9 percent of the total budget. The extra co-curricular activities are less than 3 percent of the total budget. When seeing these small percentages, understand the majority of future cuts will directly impact the students' education, because cuts will have to come from the reduction in our current curriculum, as well as administrative and extra and co-curricular.

The VEA is a teachers' union association. It represent itself as a union. The VEA would not be doing its job if they didn't try to protect its members. We do understand and respect its position. But knowing this, also remember that you have elected board members that have only the student's best interest in mind and do not have any other special interest. Each board member has children in the district and is trying to provide them the best education they can with the finances that are available.

All areas of the budget will be reviewed for future cuts. We are here to say that the cuts necessary should the opt-out fail ��will have a detrimental effect on the education of our students.

If the opt-out should pass, remember that this only offers a band-aid fix to the finance situation. There needs to be major changes made at the state level. Vermillion is not alone in this situation; there have been 112 school districts out of 169 in South Dakota that have attempted to opt-out.

A successful opt-out on March 15 is the only option Vermillion has to maintain its current level of education.

We are urging the citizens of Vermillion to vote YES to the opt-out on March 15.

Mark and

Beth Bottolfson

Vermillion

In response

To the editor:

In response to Roxan Brown's letter to the editor published Feb. 18,

1. First of all, I'm not a head custodian; I am the building and grounds director of the Vermillion School District. My responsibilities are many and varied. I deal with the day-to-day operation in all the schools which include but are not limited to the following: Custodial, electrical, plumbing, structural, mechanical, grounds and HVAC issues. I also perform approximately 3 1/2 hours of custodial duties per day.

2. I will not make apologies to anyone for earning a decent salary in Vermillion. I have approximately 16 years experience in the building maintenance field, 10 of those years as super visor. I also have 10 years as a plumber.

3. Do I make more than teachers? I realize this is public knowledge but I have better things to do with my time besides checking out other people's salaries. I'm also a 12 month employee.

4. Any personnel issues regarding termination have been dealt with professionally, fairly and in accordance with the plan of assistance program, as outlined in the department manual.

5. Head custodians' responsibilities include a lot of other things that need to be done other than cleaning, such as mail runs, snow removal, setup for events, routine maintenance of HVAC systems, boilers and custodial equipment. They perform routine electrical and plumbing repairs. They oversee the other custodians in their perspective buildings. In addition, they set up to help out with and clean up after lunch everyday and oh, they also clean. These are just a few of their responsibilities.

6. The bleachers at Vermillion High School are 40 years old and need to be replaced because they are a safety issue. We are fortunate that no one has been seriously hurt on them yet. There have been some close calls with small children falling through. The state of Minnesota has required all the schools to remove this same bleacher because of the safety issues with them. Funding for the bleachers is a capital outlay expenditure meaning they can not be funded by the general fund. The general fund is used for operational expenses of the school district and is the fund that will benefit from the opt-out.

In closing, if any citizen in the Vermillion School District would like to spend an eight hour work day with me to see what all I do please contact the administration office to make arrangements. But most importantly, I will be voting for the opt-out not because of my job but so the children of Vermillion get the eduction they deserve. I can find another job but the children of Vermillion only get one education opportunity.

Respectfully

Scott Hanson

Vermillion

Don't make situation worse

To the editor:

I am writing you as a concerned student. I am a sophomore at Vermillion High School. My education throughout the district has been top-notch. Vermillion schools are filled with dedicated and caring teachers and staff. That is why I believe we must pass the opt-out on March 15, to essentially save our school district.

The proposed cuts for this year, if the opt-out does not pass, will be highly detrimental. At the high school, for example, five sections of English classes will be cut, as well as all business classes. This means that upper level and elective English classes will most likely not be available. Also, if these cuts take place, at best there will be only one computer class left at the high school.

What will the cutting of one English position mean to me? It will probably mean that I won't be able to take American Heritage next year, one of the finest and most challenging classes in the district. This deprives all students of remarkable opportunities to learn. It will also mean that I won't be able to take A.P. Literature, which is one of the few A.P. classes left at Vermillion.

Not taking these challenging classes will not only hurt my chances of getting into a good college and applying for scholarships, but will also hurt my overall learning. If I can't take any computer classes during my high school career, this will really harm my chances of getting into a tech school or even being computer literate in our computer driven world today.

Vermillion schools have always been able to say that they provide the best education for all students, at whatever level. This will no longer be true. Let's look at some of the other proposed cuts. One librarian and one guidance position will be cut. Both are critical positions to lose. School libraries need a librarian, not just an aide. Not only because the library acts as a central study area in both the middle school and high school, but because our librarians instill in the students a lifetime love of reading. Reading itself will improve test scores and generally help increase the quality of education.

The position of guidance counselor is also vital. Maybe those of you who have been out of school for a while may not know quite all the responsibility our guidance counselors have today. At the high school, the counselors not only deal with students' emotional issues, but scheduling conflicts, standardized testing, and helping students choose and apply to colleges and technical schools. The counselors are so busy right now; I cannot imagine the situation if one was cut.

All the proposed cuts this year are not the worst part though, because if the opt-out does not pass, then next year we will face even more cuts. We've already trimmed all we can from the budget and now it will just continue to worsen. Think of the elementary school children who are now too young to understand what the opt-out will mean to them. What kind of high school will be left for the present first-graders? Or even our seventh-graders? If the cuts keep going at the pace they are, Vermillion will cease to be an accredited school in a much shorter time than any of us would like to imagine.

This opt-out vote is almost our last hope. Although you may not agree with proposed cuts, this is not a reason to vote against the opt-out. By voting against the opt-out, you aren't holding the administrators accountable; you holding the entire school district accountable for a few people's mistakes. All in all, when I graduate from high school, I'll still have an education. It's the quality of that education that is in question. It is the opportunities that will be offered to me that are in question. Even if you do not believe the proposed cuts are the right ones, voting against the opt-out will only make the situation worse.

Our town has always prided itself on its impressive and good school system. Let's keep that pride alive and keep our schools going. Please vote in favor of opting-out on March 15, for the future of our town and the future of our youth.

Sincerely and

respectfully,

Hannah Pommersheim

Vermillion High School student

Electric concerns

To the editor:

The city of Vermillion buys electric power from two sources: the federal government's Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and Missouri River Energy Services (MRES). WAPA is a power marketing administration (PMA) that markets power in this region that is produced at hydroelectric power plants along the Missouri River. MRES is a not-for-profit joint-action agency that markets power produced at the coal-fired Laramie River Station (LRS) in Wyoming and at other smaller generating plants.

MRES, which is based in Sioux Falls, sells power to its 58 member communities that own and operate their own municipal electric systems. Those members include Vermillion and other municipal utilities in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. MRES members, on average, currently purchase about half of their power from WAPA and half from MRES. (The city of Vermillion is actually 70 percent WAPA and 30 percent MRES.)

In its FY 2006 budget plan, the Bush Administration proposes to arbitrarily increase PMA rates over the next four years to match market rates. If implemented, this proposal would extract more than $80 million from MRES communities over that term and more than double the hydropower (WAPA) rates.

Federal cost-based hydropower customers are not subsidized by taxpayers. All costs of the hydropower system are recovered through the agencies rates � in full and with interest. Imposing market rates amounts to a special tax on electric customers served by WAPA, many of which are located in rural, economically depressed areas of the region.

Another issue that could lead to large electric rate increases has to do with rates for shipping coal via rail to the Laramie River Station (LRS), the primary source of power from which MRES serves its members. Consolidation within the railroad industry has left many utilities and other shippers, including MRES, dependent on a single railroad for delivery of coal from the mines to their power generation plants.

This is the case for the 175-mile run from the mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin to LRS near Wheatland, WY. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) currently transports some 8.3 million tons of coal per year on this route to LRS.

A long-standing contract with BNSF recently expired and the railroad published new "common carrier" rates for the same service. The result of this situation is that delivering the coal to the power plant now costs significantly more per ton than the cost of the coal itself. Without federal attention, rail rates are projected to continue to spiral out of control, increasing the cost of Laramie River Station power by an estimated $1 billion over the next 20 years.

The city of Vermillion, along with many other municipal and rural electric utilities, will be facing serious electric rate challenges in the near future if the above scenarios continue or are implemented.

Please contact your members of Congress and ask their help in maintaining the current hydropower system and rates, as well as assistance in working to fix the unfair railroad monopoly.

Sincerely,

Dan Christopherson

Mayor

Vermillion

Sports are valuable

To the editor:

"Why aren't they cutting sports instead of teachers? Shouldn't they be cutting extra-curricular activities before they cut teachers?"

Questions like these are common when the school district is forced to make thousands of dollars in cuts to its budget. And they are questions that deserve to be answered.

I was asking these same questions when I first decided to run for school board three years ago. You see, I'm one of those folks who does not really like sports all that much. I don't watch them, I don't play them and I really couldn't understand why sports couldn't be cut to preserve academic programs.

If I don't like sports why am I not spearheading the effort to get rid of sports?

Quite simply, when I consider the academic needs of our children, I need to consider both the direct and the indirect influences on their education. Sports and other extra-curricular activities have a profound impact on our children's education, especially at the high school level.

Whether I like them or not, sports play an important role in our children's education.

Sports, and other extra-curricular activities, do three important things for the academic well-being of our children: 1) they keep kids in school, 2) they help motivate kids to do well, and 3) they keep kids from getting into other sorts of mischief.

Many of our high school age children don't like school and struggle with academics. Without sports and other extracurricular programs some of these teenagers would drop out. No matter how many teachers are in school, you cannot teach a student who isn't there.

A lot of kids who would stay in school without sports would lack the motivation to do well. Whether I like it or not, sports provide many adolescents with the motivation they need to do better in classes than they would otherwise.

They need to work hard to perform well academically so they can maintain athletic eligibility. Motivated kids are easier to teach and they learn more than kids lacking motivation.

No matter how motivated or unmotivated a student might be, they all get bored if they don't have something to do. Without sports, and other activities, many kids would find other ways to keep busy after school � drugs, alcohol, sex, and general trouble making all being common choices for adolescents looking to fill time.

Even with sports some adolescents can get into trouble. Think how much worse it would be if there were no sports, or other activities, to help keep these kids busy. And no matter how good a teacher is, they cannot teach a kid with a drug or alcohol problem.

I may not like sports, but I do value sports. Sports help keep our children out of trouble and in school so that they can learn. They help keep our kids motivated to learn.

If we truly value the education of our district's children, then we need them to be in school and ready to learn so that the teachers can do their jobs.

Michael Granaas

Vermillion

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