Local view: School Board actions haven’t earned levy supportActions of the Duluth School Board the past four years indicate a total lack of oversight and transparency. I ask voters to consider my concerns.
By: Richard Paulson, Duluth News Tribune
Actions of the Duluth School Board the past four years indicate a total lack of oversight and transparency. I ask voters to consider my concerns.
The School Board passed the last two teachers’ contracts with little knowledge of their cost implications and with no involvement in their negotiations.
The School Board also approved a new health-care carrier, again with little knowledge of cost implications. It includes a Health Reimbursement Arrangement that requires the district to contribute 100 percent of single and family maximum out-of-pocket expenses (for medical care and prescription drugs) in the amounts of $1,900 for single and $3,800 for family. The cost of the requirement totaled more than $4 million as of July 2011. Everyone needs to understand that whatever the teachers’ contract states relating to insurances covers all district employees working half-time or more.
The School Board banked on $23.4 million from the sales of excess district properties, including Central High School, to pay off 2009B bonds. With property sales slow, expectations were lowered to about $17 million. But even that would account for only about 28 percent of the $58.9 million debt. Anyone wonder why the School Board approved maximum tax levy for 2014?
In addition, the School Board approved general fund transfers of up to $6 million a year for debt service and other fund deficits.
The 2013 Legislature increased revenue to school districts by $78 per pupil for 2014 and by $504 per pupil for 2015.
The School Board accepted, in accordance with state law, a non-voter-approved Location
Equity Levy of $212 per student. By my estimation, it’ll result in a $1.9 million increase in the tax levy in December.
The School Board continues to close agenda-setting meetings to most School Board members, which is completely unacceptable.
The Long-Range Facilities Plan banked on $158 million in energy and efficiency savings that haven’t entirely materialized. Counting on the savings has been a complete disaster, forcing increased levies to service debt.
Teachers’ contracts were approved in June 2009 and July 2010 with a promise that 100 printed copies of the collective-bargaining agreements would be made available and would be posted on the district’s website. However, School Board members and the public weren’t able to obtain copies of the contracts or find them online until June 2010, a full year after approval, and April 2012, a year and nine months after approval. When I finally obtained copies of the contracts the delay became clear to me. Included were costly items related to health insurance and nine memorandums dating from January 2010 to March 2012 that didn’t appear to be negotiated or approved by the School Board. The contracts state either party can submit requests for changes. Shouldn’t requested changes then be negotiated and approved by the School Board?
The latest teachers’ contract expired at the end of June. There has been little information beyond a single News Tribune article on July 22, 2013, which was able to be written only after a data-practices request. The article, titled, “Duluth teachers seek more pay for increased workload,” detailed costly contract demands but
didn’t mention a health-insurance increase of 5.25 percent that went into effect July 1.
Considering that 80 cents of every dollar in the Duluth school district’s general fund goes for salaries and benefits, one wonders where the levy funds being requested on Nov. 5 will go.
As a former School Board member and chairman of the district’s negotiating committee for two years, I cannot accept what has taken place in our district. I have supported education all my life. But without a School Board member at the bargaining table at all times, without complete draft copies of contracts, and with changes apparently able to be made without negotiation or School Board approval, I cannot support any new levies.
Richard Paulson of Duluth was a School Board member from 1971 to 1976 and was a member of the grass-roots anti-Red Plan group Let Duluth Vote.