Duluth school district could ask for another $1.8 millionDuluth taxpayers will probably see two operating levy questions on the November general election ballot: one asking for an amount that maintains what they already pay and one that asks for an additional $1.8 million.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth taxpayers will probably see two operating levy questions on the November general election ballot: one asking for an amount that maintains what they already pay and one that asks for an additional $1.8 million.
Duluth school district Superintendent Bill Gronseth made his recommendations Monday at the School Board’s business committee meeting. He picked three of eight possible scenarios for the board to choose from for the first question, but he didn’t make a final recommendation. Each results in the same amount of possible revenue — $5.5 million, including $1.1 million in state aid — but gets there in a different way. The School Board will choose one of the following options:
The first scenario is the only one in which the $1.1 million in state aid is guaranteed. If a referendum fails, the state will not give that money. A $300 operating levy needs to be in place for a district to receive the aid.
The second question, which would pass only if the first question passed, would increase property taxes. Currently, the owner of a $150,000 home pays $109 per year in operating levy taxes. The second question increases that by $45.36 a year.
Any of the three options for the first question give the district enough money — along with some state aid — to help address some of the worst areas as far as class sizes and replace curriculum in subjects where it’s been put on hold, Gronseth said. But the second question, if approved, would go much further in making a difference, he said.
“This would help us see a significant decrease across the board,” he said, regarding class sizes, and would help the district do greater work in narrowing the achievement gap and other innovative instruction.
“The question comes down to the confidence level in the community.”
Gronseth has spent time talking to staff and community members and said he thinks the first question would pass, and a portion of the city would vote for a second question. As far as whether the board should approve a levy or the voters should: “The district has been through a tough seven years, and certainly having a say has been a part of that discussion,” he said, noting many have said they want the chance to vote and others say it doesn’t matter. “There are people who will support schools no matter what and people who will be against schools no matter what.”
Board member Mary Cameron said she was encouraged by Gronseth’s confidence that voters would go for a levy, so she didn’t want to use the board’s authority to approve the $300 tax. She was leaning toward the other two choices, she said. Member Art Johnston said the choice should be entirely up to voters, and a second question would complicate matters.
Members Cameron, Ann Wasson and Tom Kasper said they approved of having a second question.
The board should take advantage of the ability it’s been given, said Judy Seliga-Punyko.
With “decimated programs,” she said, “to me, we would be crazy not to take what the state has given us. I don’t want to just tread water, but add back some of the things we cut.”
The safest option, said East High School senior and student board representative Erik Thibault, is the one with the $300 board-approved levy and a referendum.
It’s not about having confidence in voters, he said, but about being a responsible governmental body. He noted how much money could be lost under the other options. “It’s about ensuring the future economic strength of our school district,” he said.
The board will vote on a referendum question, and on whether to approve the $300 levy and the $212 levy authority Aug. 20. It has an Aug. 23 state deadline for ballot language.