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Duluth School Board OKs budget

Increases in funding from the state and local taxpayers means the Duluth School Board approved a budget Tuesday that invests in education rather than taking from it for the first time in several years.

The board voted 5-2 to approve more than $2.3 million in investments district-wide. Members Art Johnston and Harry Welty opposed the measure. Those include:

* Using $1.45 million to hire between 15 and 17 full-time equivalent teacher positions to help lower class sizes in schools throughout the district. The bulk of operating levy money approved in November is going toward these efforts.

* Spending $200,000 on ways to increase test scores and raise the graduation rate, including investments in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

* A $150,000 investment in books and other materials, in an attempt to make the updating cycle more regular.

* A $275,000 one-time investment to align curriculum. The state has directed the district to update all of its core subject areas to match state standards by fall. Only 40 percent of the district’s curricula currently meet standards, which change every few years.

* An $85,000 increase in what the district pays into the Duluth Teachers’ Retirement Fund, which will soon be merging with the state teachers’ pension plan.

* A $200,000 investment in tables and other equipment, along with labor, for the recently approved closure of the high school campuses during lunchtime next year. Seniors will be able to leave campus.

The board also approved $275,000 in budget reductions, which include savings from unemployment expenses as a result of fewer layoffs.

The district — thanks to recent increased state support and an increase to local property taxes to help pay construction debt — has begun to rebuild its surplus. Last December it was $1.9 million. The Duluth district had been nicked by the Moody’s bond rating service for its lack of reserves, which have fallen far below the amount dictated by board policy — 10 percent of expenditures — and which an independent auditor has said it should build back up for cash flow.

The approval of the budget Tuesday means that by June 2015, the reserve amount should be built back up to nearly $10 million, a number that meets board policy.