Duluth schools 'Plan B' referendum victory would be more symbolic than real, say Red Plan opponents
Voters who live in the Duluth school district will be asked Nov. 2 to vote on a plan that everyone seems to agree will never happen. Both sides, however, say the vote on Plan B -- the Red Plan alternative -- will send a message. For Plan B backer...
Voters who live in the Duluth school district will be asked Nov. 2 to vote on a plan that everyone seems to agree will never happen.
Both sides, however, say the vote on Plan B -- the Red Plan alternative -- will send a message.
For Plan B backers, passage of the referendum would tell school district officials that their Red Plan, with its school closings, consolidations and construction of new buildings and additions, was a mistake. They say it gives a voice to the people who wanted to be able to vote on the district's $296 million Red Plan.
For the school district, defeat of the referendum would tell them that voters want to see the Red Plan proceed to completion, with a new lineup of renovated or newly built schools to open in the next few years. An overall "no" vote on Plan B would show that most residents support having updated, more cost-efficient buildings.
On the ballot will be this question: "Shall the School Board of Independent School District No. 709, Duluth, be authorized to issue general obligation bonds totaling $128,000,000 to be used with an estimated $66,092,086 in bonds and investment earnings previously approved by the Board for alternative facilities to build two new middle schools and two new elementary schools; repair and remodel three high schools, one middle school, and five elementary schools; repair and expand two elementary schools; and repair and remodel 'Old Central High' and the Secondary Technical Center?
BY VOTING 'YES' ON THIS BALLOT QUESTION, YOU ARE VOTING FOR A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE."
Frustrated by not having a chance to vote on the Red Plan in 2007, a group called Let Duluth Vote successfully circulated a petition calling for a vote on an alternative plan, presented to the district in March 2008. Plan B would keep all three high schools open and would end grade six-through-eight middle school programs. The Red Plan includes two high schools and two middle schools.
Plan B would have cost about $194 million during two phases. But with 90 percent of the Red Plan money now spent or committed through contracts, switching to Plan B would cost more than finishing the Red Plan will. The district released numbers last week that say Plan B now would cost $345 million, about $49 million more than the Red Plan. Let Duluth Vote members say the district purposely dragged out the process of voting on Plan B.
"The school district continued to deprive the citizens of their rightful say by refusing to allow a vote on Plan B until now," said Brenda Anderson of Let Duluth Vote.
District officials have denied that allegation. They point out that backing away from the Red Plan now would result in legal battles over canceled contracts. Costs also would increase by keeping more schools open, redesigning buildings, undoing current construction of some buildings and reissuing bonds.
Even if the Plan B referendum passes, it isn't likely to move forward. The School Board would have to approve the switch in plans, and that is not likely because of the board's makeup.