Schools column: Community vision will drive use of education levy fundsOn Tuesday, November 5, voters will consider two ballot questions on extending Duluth’s levy for education.
By: Bill Gronseth, For the Budgeteer News
On Tuesday, November 5, voters will consider two ballot questions on extending Duluth’s levy for education.
The current levy was originally approved by voters in 2003, renewed in 2008, and generates about $4.4 million in local revenue for schools. It is scheduled to expire in 2014.
Funds generated through the levy will support class-size reduction, student achievement, curriculum, and other priorities identified through the Think Kids community conversation and the 4-year Continuous Improvement Plan.
The first question asks if the current levy should be renewed. The question renews an existing levy and is not a property tax increase. Passage of the first question qualifies Duluth’s schools for an additional $1.1 million in state aid.
If the first question doesn’t pass, schools lose $2.5 million in local education support, they lose $1.1 million in additional state aid, and the second question automatically fails.
The second question then asks if local education funding should increase by $1.8 million. This question provides additional funding to reduce class size and support the previously mentioned priorities. It results in a property tax increase of about $3.78 per month for a $150,000 home.
It’s important to understand how funding from the education levy would be used.
Using input from thousands of citizens who participated in Think Kids, leaders inside and outside our schools developed a 4-year Continuous Improvement Plan for ISD 709. There are specific goals associated with class size, student achievement, curriculum, staff training, school safety and climate, community engagement, and prioritizing general fund spending to instruction and support of students.
Each goal includes baseline data with targets to be reached by the end of the 2016-17 school year. Citizens can review this detailed plan at www.ISD709.org.
Here are some examples of how funding can make a difference. Reducing the student-to-teacher staffing ratio by 1, an investment of about $1.1 million, can result in as many as 4-5 fewer students in a classroom. An intervention program called Read 180 is already being used in some schools, at a cost of about $180,000. Through this program, students have increased their reading ability by as much as several grade levels in one year.
Laura MacArthur Elementary is an excellent example of how financial resources can be thoughtfully, strategically and efficiently used to have a real impact on student achievement. Deemed a Priority School a little over a year ago, it raised its student achievement significantly — the Minnesota Department of Education recently invited Laura MacArthur to apply for Celebration School status.
As we create action plans associated with the 4-year goals, it’s my intention to share information regularly about how funds are being invested, to check in with our community partners and to continue to seek advice from Duluth’s citizens on how we can work together to achieve these important goals.
Many thanks to all those who are helping ISD 709 create a focused direction and who are helping us work transparently and in partnership with the community for the good of all students. I encourage you to take advantage of your right to vote November 5.
Bill Gronseth is the superintendent of Duluth Public Schools. Contact him at (218) 336-8752 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.