Keith Dixon: Why I like the Red PlanThe long-range facilities plan is a great investment in our community because of the education benefits it brings. But its role in helping put Duluth back to work is a great added value of the plan.
By: Keith Dixon, Budgeteer News
For more than 20 years, Duluth has debated the problems of declining enrollment and the need to upgrade school facilities. In 2006 and 2007, we engaged in an 18-month community discussion to break this logjam and create a plan that truly reflects community needs. The result of this was the long-range facilities plan. I’m sometimes asked why we believe this is the right plan. Let me share a few reasons:
Research shows you need good facilities to provide a quality learning environment. Safe and secure buildings and modern classrooms with ample space are important to our students’ learning experience.
Technology matters — we can’t help students prepare for the jobs of the future if we don’t have our classrooms wired and don’t provide access to technology such as computers and smart boards.
More importantly, our classrooms and other facilities don’t currently meet state education requirements. We’re short-changing students if we think they can advance using the same equipment and classrooms that their parents (and even their grandparents) used.
Becoming more efficient, reducing expenses
Budget deficits are not a temporary problem — the best we’ll do for the foreseeable future is hold steady on state funding. We’ll see budget deficits in the millions each year for the foreseeable future.
Local taxpayers are skeptical about footing more of the bill for operating costs.
I don’t blame them; we need to do our part. We have more space than we need. By reducing from 19 to 14 buildings, we can save more than $2.5 million in costs without cutting teachers. We can also save nearly $1 million a year by making our buildings more energy and water efficient.
All told, we can save $5.3 million a year by updating our schools.
Providing value to local taxpayers
More than half the plan is paid for without increasing local property taxes. By selling unneeded property and applying 80 percent of the savings from efficiencies to pay off the bonds, we provide more than $2 of investments for every $1 our local taxpayers invest.
Taxpayers have been paying for the plan since 2008, about $9.22 a month for an average home.
Taxes are expected to go up about $3 a year — in other words, there are no big tax increases coming for this plan, as you’re already paying for it.
Encouraging future families to Choose Duluth
Declining enrollment is due to smaller generations, but it’s also because new families aren’t choosing to live in Duluth. Instability and lack of investment in our schools is catching up with us.
We need a more vibrant Duluth. As young parents consider where they want to work, play and raise their families, we want them to choose Duluth. And we know the quality of our schools will play a big part in that decision.
Improvements made possible through the Red Plan will make every remaining school in Duluth more attractive to families.
Improving the local economy
The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce provided a wonderful service to residents by quantifying the impact of the plan on the local economy: nearly a $500 million in economic activity, a peak employment of 1600 jobs and clear evidence that our recession would be worse without this investment.
The long-range facilities plan is a great investment in our community because of the education benefits it brings. But its role in helping put Duluth back to work is a great added value of the plan.
Recently we saw the details regarding Let Duluth Vote’s Plan B. I’m pleased to say our plan stacks up well.
Our plan costs taxpayers less per month than Plan B, provides more savings for teachers and programs and provides more substantial improvements to the efficiency and educational adequacy of all schools — not just patches and short-term fixes.
Plan B accomplishes less and costs more. Taxpayers pay less and get more for their money with the long-range facilities plan.
Our plan is not without controversy; we made some difficult decisions, ones that needed to be made, but they were still very tough because they affect neighborhood schools.
And, frankly, citizens should have high expectations for an investment of $296 million.
The Red Plan meets those expectations. Over the next three years, you’ll see big changes in our schools — positive ones.
Once these changes are made, we’ll be ready for the next 20 years with modern schools, lower operating costs and a much-needed stability for our families, students and community.
Keith Dixon is the superintendent of Duluth Public Schools. His office is located in the Old Central High School, 215 N. First Ave. E., Duluth, MN 55802. Call him at (218) 336-8752 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.