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Teacher's proposal shot down at Somerset annual meeting

A proposal by Somerset teacher Lorri Baillargeon to raise taxes on the typical property in the Somerset School District by more than $200 was quickly voted down by the small crowd attending the 2009 school district annual meeting on Sept. 14.

When the 2009 state budget was announced this summer, the school district found it had to deal with $550,000 less in state funding than district administration had anticipated. The school board has directed the administration to come back with a levy that will not increase taxes when the school district budget will be finalized at its Oct. 26 meeting.

With that intent driving the actions of the meeting, there were shocked looks from the board members when Baillargeon proposed that the district levy to the maximum dollar value allowable.

The school board is usually quite guarded with its public comments. Marie Colbeth was the one board member who immediately spoke out against Baillargeon's proposal.

"I have great trouble supporting this ... especially that it came from a teacher," Colbeth said.

Colbeth and Baillargeon then shared some sharp comments before board Chairman Tim Witzmann broke in, saying that all comments should be directed to the group and not to other individuals.

Baillargeon's proposal would have had a huge tax impact in the district. On a $250,000 home, her proposal would have added an additional $240 to its tax levy. It would have raised the tax levy in the school district by $563,000 from the preliminary district budget that had been approved by the school board in June.

Baillargeon and three people seated with her were the only people to vote in favor of her resolution. Ten district residents, nearly all school board members or district administrators, voted against the idea.

The original idea that had been carried into the meeting was then voted upon and it passed by a 7-2 vote.

This is a non-binding vote. The final decision on the tax levy will come at the Somerset Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday, Oct. 26.

That the board sets the final levy in October made much of this argument a moot point. Any discussions on the budget were further diluted by the changes occurring from the reduction in funding from the state. Because that happened after the district preliminary budget had been approved, it made the preliminary budget numbers largely irrelevant.

Baillargeon's side

Baillargeon didn't get an opportunity to explain her intentions with the quick response to her proposal during the annual meeting. Later in the week, she said she fully expected that her proposal would be voted down. She said the proposal was done to make a point.

Baillargeon said she does not believe that everyone in the school district wants to see funding for the school district kept as low as possible. She said by not levying to the maximum, the school district loses money that it can't recoup in future years.

Baillargeon is a Somerset native and her children went through the schools. She is in her 18th year on the teaching staff.

"I just feel like it's our responsibility that kids can have the best education they can get," Baillargeon said.

Baillargeon admitted that she did not expect her proposal would cost more than $200 for each taxpayer.

Baillargeon has been consistently attending board meetings for more than a decade. Baillargeon is a member of the teachers' union negotiating team. The teachers are currently in the early stages of negotiating a contract for the current school year.

Meeting date change

The final action of the annual meeting is to set the date for the following year's annual meeting. Because several factors on which the district budget are based aren't available at this date, Colbeth moved to have the annual meeting date pushed back. After seeking guidance from district Business Manager Bob Avery, it was decided that the first Monday in October would be a more suitable date for the annual meeting.

The third Friday enrollment count, which is the centerpiece on which the state funding formula is based, wasn't completed by this year's annual meeting. It will be reported two weeks prior to next year's annual meeting. It was Colbeth's assertion that the time difference will give the business manager a chance to bring more meaningful numbers to next year's annual meeting by pushing the date of the meeting back by three weeks.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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