Duluth schools win with yes-yes vote on levyDuluth students should expect smaller class sizes in coming years, as voters came out Tuesday in support of two school district funding measures.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth students should expect smaller class sizes in coming years, as voters came out Tuesday in support of two school district funding measures.
The first question to renew the current operating levy passed handily. The second question asking for an increase squeaked by.
“I’m so excited,” Superintendent Bill Gronseth said shortly after the votes were tallied.
“I think this is a great step for our community. We will be able to make some really great progress toward our goals,” Gronseth said. “I am so thankful for all the people that put so much time and effort into getting information out.”
Voters were asked to both renew and increase the district’s operating levy for five years. An increase means another $200 per pupil, which would give the district an additional $1.8 million, and cost the owner of a $150,000 home another $45 per year.
The first question was approved by 66 percent of the voters, and the second question by 51 percent.
With the approval of the first question comes $1.1 million in state aid. A failure would have meant the loss of that money. Built into the renewal amount is $1.9 million in equalization money the district collects regardless of voter intent; money from taxpayers authorized by the state this past legislative session for larger districts with higher costs.
With the passage of the second question, the total amount going to the district is $7.3 million, of which $2.9 million is new money and includes the state aid. The current yearly levy amount is $4.4 million.
The money from the increase is intended to hire 13-18 more teachers to lower class sizes districtwide. It’s also slated for updating curriculum, improving science programming and helping at-risk students.
In 2011, voters soundly defeated a three-tiered operating levy request. The current levy expires this school year.
Statewide, 57 school districts asked voters for operating levy money. As a way to narrow the funding gap between the highest- and lowest-spending districts this year, the state gave school boards the authority to impose up to a $300 per-pupil operating levy in lieu of a vote. But many, including the Duluth School Board, voted to let the public decide instead.
West Duluth resident Robin Pedersen, whose grandchildren attend Laura MacArthur Elementary, voted to increase the operating levy, saying students shouldn’t suffer because people are still mad about the long-range facilities plan.
“They needed these schools to enhance Duluth to get people to move here and work here and raise families,” she said. “We shouldn’t take that away from kids. They have no vote in it.”
But some people can’t afford a tax increase, said Nanette Jasper, while voting at Elim Lutheran Church in West Duluth. She voted to maintain the current levy.
“I can only afford so much these days,” she said. “I can’t afford more property taxes. I don’t think a lot of people can.”
Paul King, spokesman for a group that opposed the operating levy, said Tuesday he’s disappointed but not surprised by the results.
“I feel bad for the people who didn’t support this,” he said, “which was a good number of people who didn’t want a tax increase who are going to have to take it, like those on a fixed income. People my age who have a decent job can afford it.”
Tom Albright, speaking for the pro-levy group “Stand up for Kids” on Tuesday, said he’s grateful to the community.
“Our group has spent the last three months phone banking and lit-dropping, reaching out,” he said.
“We knew our message was out there. It was very close but we are thrilled,” Albright said. “And we can’t stop tonight; we need to stay engaged.”