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Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce supports operating levy

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors voted last week to support Willmar Schools' operating levy.

The decision was based on a membership survey of chamber members and the recommendation of the Public Policy Committee.

The survey had a response rate of 13.86 percent with a clear majority voting in favor of supporting the operating levy that will be before the voters in November.

"Chamber members have always valued good education for our children and supported the school district," said Board Chair Dean Bouta in a news release. "This was a difficult decision for the chamber, as we do understand and appreciate that in the current state of the economy, many businesses have been forced to reduce their operating expenses and asked their employees to share in the reductions; we remain optimistic that our economy will become stronger, and we must continue to move forward."

"I'm pleased they gave us their support," Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Monday afternoon.

The chamber does not accept the current state of education funding or student performance, chamber president Ken Warner said in the news release. The chamber also believes it is essential that post-employment benefits and health care benefits for current employees be restructured to address escalating costs.

The release also listed a number of goals the chamber hopes to work on in partnership with the school district. The school district will be asked to:

- Agree that projected expenditures will not exceed revenues.

- Continue to reduce overhead expenses.

- Agree that reducing the school week to a four-day school week will only be considered as a measure of last resort to cut costs.

- Examine and restructure post-employment benefits and health care costs for its employees.

- Participate in alternative teacher compensation and other approaches to attract revenue prior to any future operating levies.

"We will take them under advisement and study them for future consideration," Kjergaard said of the chamber's goals.

"Along with being optimistic about business and the economy improving, schools will need to continue to review options for funding formulas and research non-traditional options to reform education to meet the future needs of our students," Bouta said in the release. "We stand ready to assist our community and state in being a leader in this change."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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