The levy: How Duluth voted
All of Duluth agreed to maintain the Duluth school district's operating levy, but just 60 percent of the district's polling places went for the class size tax increase and 40 percent for the technology update, according to state voter data.
On Tuesday, voters overall agreed to a tax increase to pay for 25 more teachers to lower class sizes, but they stopped short of adding even more money to address outdated technology.
Precincts all over the city map said no to that third question, including some in Lakeside, Woodland, Piedmont and West Duluth. No eastern precincts — where class sizes are typically the largest — went against the classroom size question. But, several in western and central Duluth precincts opposed it, along with all of the district's townships.
Those results show that "we didn't do a good job of meeting their needs," said School Board member Alanna Oswald of voters in those areas.
The majority of residents she heard from remain concerned about unsold school properties, like the former Central High School, she said, but the levy "was about kids."
"I encouraged people to not make this about the long-range facilities plan," she said, of the $315 million building consolidation and construction plan that left Central empty. "School Board elections are where you can voice those concerns."
Board member Nora Sandstad said the district could have done a better job of explaining the need for the technology request.
"With more time to plan, we could do a specific technology levy in the future," she said, because teachers have made the need clear. "I think that could be very successful if done correctly."
Sandstad had proposed to the board a third question that asked for money to add more scheduling options during the day for middle and high schools; a priority for many students and families. High schools have been without a seventh period for more than a dozen years, and middle schools half a dozen. That's still a priority for her, she said.
"Hopefully, with more progressive legislators and a Democratic governor we can get better funding from the state," she said, to help pay for that change.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said historically, some precincts have regularly supported operating levies and some have not.
"Certainly there are financial implications when talking about increased taxes, and I understand that concern," he said, but the technology question only fell short by a slim margin.
"That tells me the community does understand a need for us to upgrade our technology," he said, which includes computers in some cases a decade old.
He spoke with "hundreds" of residents in the last 18 months, he said, and Central only "came up a few times."
When asked whether the district would make another ask for tech money, Gronseth said the district would get by with the money it has for now, and the board will discuss where to go next.
"It could be possible to ask the public again to reconsider funding for technology," he said.
Had voters approved the third question it would have meant a significant increase for taxpayers. The owner of a home valued at $150,000 would have paid an extra $164 per year.
Statewide, 24 of 35, or about 69 percent of all school districts that asked operating levy questions on ballots this week passed at least one question, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.