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As levy vote nears, district states its case

With Election Day fast approaching, hundreds of volunteers are reaching the end of efforts to spread the word about the $15 million question Independent School District 196 would like voters to answer.

More than 600 volunteers have made tens of thousands of phone calls in recent weeks to make sure people know about the levy, and superintendent Jane Berenz has talked to more than 20 groups about the question, which would add $512 per student to the district's budget over the next 10 years.

So far, the people on the receiving end of the message have been friendly, even when they haven't supported the levy. That is a change from some past levies, which have generated vocal opposition.

"I've found that this was a more pleasant experience," said Rosemount Middle School principal Mary Thompson, who has made phone calls for three previous levies. "Whether they're for it or not, people were very pleasant and very positive about our school system and understanding the pinch we're in."

Phone callers haven't spent long talking to potential voters. They've tried to make sure residents are aware of the question and pointed them to the district's web page if they have questions. They've also made follow-up calls to answer specific questions.

Red Pine Elementary School principal Gary Anger, who has overseen the calling effort, said the questions residents ask tend to vary by neighborhood.

The district has a hotline for residents with questions, but Berenz said that line has been staffed much less than it was for past levies because there hasn't been much demand for it.

Berenz believes the relative silence about the levy is a sign people at least understand why the district is asking the question.

The district made $15.3 million in budget cuts this year and even with a successful levy expects to cut $3 million next year. Without a levy, the district expects to cut $23 million next year, assuming the state makes the 7 percent cut to education funding that the district has predicted.

Still, Berenz is not sure silence equals support.

"I think it's a sign that people understand the issues we face," Berenz said. "There's not been the 'Cut the waste' statements. We've not heard, 'If you'd only done that.' I think people understand. Now, whether people can vote for it given their (financial) situation -- these are uncertain times."

For now, Berenz believes the district has done all it can to make sure people are informed about the levy. After months of regular appointments to talk to Rotary clubs, the Chamber of Commerce and parent groups, Berenz is ready to see what people decide.

"Just since about Monday, it seems eerily quiet, and I'm just waiting now," she said. "That's more difficult."