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Reader's view: School district taxes encourage skepticism

Credibility remains an issue for the Duluth School Board. Honesty and transparency might improve that over time. Unfortunately, my most recent property tax statement from St. Louis County contains further reason to be skeptical. The statement sho...

Credibility remains an issue for the Duluth School Board. Honesty and transparency might improve that over time. Unfortunately, my most recent property tax statement from St. Louis County contains further reason to be skeptical. The statement shows a decrease in estimated real estate market value and a corresponding decrease in the amount of tax owed to the county.

In comparison, total school district levies are rapidly rising. Looking at the past several years, total property tax has gone up 15 percent, but the portion due the county has increased less than 5 percent. Total school district taxes, in comparison, have increased a sobering 25 percent. On closer inspection, the tax statement splits the school district levy into two portions: "voter-approved levies" and "other local levies." The voter-approved line has increased nearly 15 percent since 2010, but the "other" line has increased by almost 50 percent and is now three times the size of the "voter-approved" line.

A phone call to the office of business services at the school district confirmed the "other" column includes facilities and maintenance. Since the Long-Range Facilities Plan was instituted to minimize maintenance, we can assume the major expense within "other" is facilities. These exorbitant tax increases belie the testimony of district officials in public meetings during development of the LRFP. At the Dec. 15, 2009, regular School Board meeting, a district spokesman reassured the board and the public that the proposed budget would cause taxes for an average Duluth home to go down several dollars.

Trickery has no place in a public institution. Students and teachers suffer the consequences of failed levy referenda. How can Independent School District 709 regain the public trust when there appears to be no interest in revealing what's behind the curtain in Duluth's version of Oz?

Thomas Day

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Duluth

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