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Duluth school district eyes maximum property tax levy

A School Board vote on Tuesday established a placeholder, so to speak, while state and local finance staff hash out what that upper limit will ultimately be.

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DULUTH — School officials here tentatively agreed to set the upcoming property tax levy as high as state administrators will allow — but what that will ultimately mean next tax season is still up in the air.

Duluth School Board members voted 6-0 on Tuesday to preliminarily set the maximum property tax levy allowed by the Minnesota Department of Education for taxes payable in 2023. Board member Kelly Durick Eder was not present. They’re scheduled to hold a definitive vote on the district’s tax levy this winter.

They called for the maximum levy this week, rather than a specific dollar amount, because district administrators are still hashing out that amount with their state counterparts, making board members’ decision something of a placeholder until education department staff finalize that figure.

“I can’t give any numbers yet because I’m still working with MDE to finalize dollar amounts,” Simone Zunich, the district’s finance and business services director, told School Board members before their vote at East High School.

That’s different from Duluth and St. Louis County officials, all of whom set specific dollar figures for their tentative tax levies earlier this month. School districts in Minnesota cannot enact a total property tax levy higher than an upper limit set by staff at the state education department in suburban St. Paul. City and county leaders don’t face the same state restriction.



Once they set a preliminary levy in the fall, Minnesota governments are required to hold a Truth in Taxation hearing before finalizing their levies in December. Whatever total levy amount they choose then must be equal to or less than the amount they pick in the fall.

The school district's taxation hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at East High School.

“At that time, we will give you real numbers,” Zunich told board members Tuesday.

In each of the district’s past six budget cycles, Duluth Public Schools officials have ultimately picked the maximum levy amount allowed by education department staff.

District finance staff estimate that the maximum levy they can enact this year will be 1%-3% greater than the maximum one set last year, according to Zunich.

The total levy School Board members approved in December was $43,085,880. A 1%-3% increase to that would mean the district’s maximum allowable levy would sit between $43,516,738 and $44,378,456.

An increase of that magnitude, though, wouldn’t necessarily translate to a 1%-3% bump in the property taxes residents will be asked to pay next year to the district.

That’s because local governments in Minnesota set a total dollar amount they want to receive from property taxes in their jurisdiction, and then county staff use that figure to determine how much individual property owners owe in a given year. That means that a tax base that grows in size or value — or both — can support a larger levy without necessarily hiking individual residents’ property taxes.


Duluth Public Schools CEO Cathy Erickson gave a presentation during the truth in taxation hearing Tuesday night. The district will see a 5.96% increase in payable taxes from 2021 compared to 2022 — $40,663,003 in 2021 to $43,085,879 in 2022.

Last December's $43 million levy was 5.96% higher than the $40.6 million levy set the year before it, but property owners who didn’t see a change in their property’s value would only see a tax increase from the school district of less than 1%, finance staff said at the time.

The PTO raises money for Hermantown Elementary School students and teachers. Its president told police that a member had spent tens of thousands of dollars on themselves over three years.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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