Duluth School Board to Ask Taxpayers to Renew Levy
Posted at: 08/20/2013 10:04 PM
| Updated at: 08/21/2013 9:01 AM
By: Travis Dill
A $4.4 million education levy in Duluth will expire next summer, and the Duluth School Board voted Tuesday to ask residents to renew it this fall.
That means ballots in Duluth will contain two questions. One asking residents if they are willing to maintain the current levy, and another that asks if they would like to increase the levy by $1.8 million.
District administration said a resident with a home valued at $150,000 currently pays about $109 a year for the levy. The administration said the increase would mean about $45 more a year for that homeowner.
The resulting ballot seems simple enough, but the school board vote came after more than an hour of confused discussion at the board's regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Board members had trouble because new Minnesota legislation gave school boards two more levy options this year.
The first was a limited levy school boards could approve without voter input. District administration said the Duluth School Board could have approved a levy for $1.6 million, but the board declined that option in a 5-1 vote with only member Judy Seliga Punyko voting in opposition.
Instead board members opted to put the levy renewal to a traditional taxpayer vote. That was despite several board members saying the school district risks losing revenue that would be devastating to students.
Seliga Punyko said if voters don't pass the levy renewal it will mean increased class sizes and cuts to sporting programs. Member Ann Wasson had fears as well, but wanted the community to have the final word.
"If this does not pass we will decimate programs. They will be gone," Member Ann Wasson said. "We have cut to our core, and we no longer can do that. I want to give this community the opportunity to vote in a positive way for education and kids."
Because of those concerns the board utilized the second new levy option created by state legislation this spring. So if voters fai to renew the levy it will not leave the district empty handed.
In a 5 to 0 vote, with Art Johnston abstaining, the board effectively accepted what is now called Location Equity Aid. District administration said the aid is a $1.9 million levy the state automatically offered the Duluth school district because of its size.
District administration said that is collected from taxpayers, and rejecting it would require a school board vote.
Member Art Johnston called on his peers to reject the aid to no avail.
"Let's be clear here. This is a board approved levy. We just turned down a board approved levy," Johnston said. "If we go and table this one we are imposing a board approved levy by another name."
Because the board approved the Location Equity Aid, only $2.5 million of the current education levy is effectively up for renewal on November 5.
If none of the options on that ballot are passed the district administration said it will lose the $2.5 million in local education funding and also lose another $1.1 million in state aid that requires districts to have a specific level of education levy in place.