Duluth superintendent: Don’t impose school levyBill Gronseth is recommending that the Duluth School Board pass up the opportunity to impose a $300 per pupil operating levy on local taxpayers and instead ask voters to approve the levy themselves, risking the loss of additional state aid if voters say no.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Superintendent Bill Gronseth is recommending that the Duluth School Board pass up the opportunity to impose a $300 per pupil operating levy on local taxpayers and instead ask voters to approve the levy themselves, risking the loss of additional state aid if voters say no.
Lawmakers granted the authority to impose the $300 levy last session, and districts that impose it or convince voters to grant it in a referendum are rewarded with an additional $1.1 million in state aid. Gronseth is asking the School Board to reject a measure at its regular meeting tonight that would give it authority to levy the $300 per pupil without a vote.
“When our district over the past seven to eight years was implementing the long-range facilities plan, it had a lot of controversy,” Gronseth said Monday.
“Something we heard along the way is that people really wanted a say in decisions being made.
“Although the Legislature put this authority in place, I don’t think it’s the right time for Duluth to use it and (instead) to put the question out to voters.”
Gronseth is, however, recommending that the School Board keep the ability to levy without a vote a separate $212 tax, also granted by lawmakers, for districts that deal with larger populations of students.
If board members take Gronseth’s advice, they will ask taxpayers to vote on two referendum questions: one that asks for $600 per pupil and a second that asks for an additional $200 per pupil.
If voters approve the first question, no taxes will be raised beyond what’s paid in the current operating levy, which expires next summer. That new levy would generate $4.4 million, about the same as the current levy, plus the $1.1 million in additional state aid. The levy would remain in place for five years.
If the second question is approved, it will generate an additional $1.8 million, and would raise taxes beyond current levels.
In the first scenario, taxpayers wouldn’t be paying $600 plus $212. The $600 includes the $212 tax.
If the referendum were to fail, the district still would levy the $212 per pupil but would lose its current operating levy and the $1.1 million in state aid. The $212 levy would generate $1.9 million, or about $2.5 million less than the current levy generates.
Gronseth acknowledged his recommendations could mean losing the extra state aid. The $300 board-approved levy would guarantee the aid.
“People want to see the district move forward and be in a better place,” he said. “I am really hopeful. … If this levy failed it would be difficult. We would likely see class sizes go up. … We would look at making some pretty big cuts across the board.”
Gronseth said an operating levy still matters even though the state increased its per pupil funding by 1.5 percent for each of the next two years, and in 2015 Duluth stands to gain about $4 million in additional state funds through special education increases and all-day kindergarten funding.
This year’s cuts to federal programs such as Title I and integration, an increase in district pension contributions and expected deficits in the $2 million range in the coming years mean big investments in teachers and curriculum won’t be possible without help.
“We don’t want to fall behind,” Gronseth said.