Posted at: 07/30/2013 10:21 PM
Updated at: 07/30/2013 11:33 PM
By: Travis Dill
New state legislation allows school boards to approve a limited levy without voter input, and the Duluth School Board got its first look at the new options on Tuesday.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said the school board will have to decide whether or not to use that new authority in their next meeting because the district's current operating levy will expire this year.
He said the board could ignore the new power and put any levy to a public vote in November, but the district already faces a $2 million deficit and losing the levy would force big cuts.
“If we don't renew it with some kind of levy the consequences would be great for the district. We would be making a lot of cuts that we wouldn't have to make if we had a levy in place. So it is very important to the schools to the community and to the health of our education system,” Gronseth said.
Gronseth described the tax changes as complicated to several school board members at the informational Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday.
The first complication was that referendum amounts per pupil will not be comparable to previous years because of the tax changes according to Deputy Clerk Bill Hanson. He said using the new tax formula the current levy equals $600 per pupil.
Hanson's presentation showed that the school board could allow $512 per pupil to be reinstated without asking voters under the new legislation. That would be roughly 80 percent of the current levy.
Gronseth said the district stands to gain $1.1 million in state aid if it has a levy of at least $300 per pupil, but he would like to see that on top of the current levy amount.
“We have an opportunity here in Duluth to maintain what we're currently paying and realize some modest increases in educational funding through actions taking by the legislature in the streams of state aid,” Gronseth said. “So by continuing what we're currently doing we're actually realizing more funds for our students and we'll be able to make progress toward our goals as a district to reduce class size, to enhance curriculum and make some modest improvements while keeping expense to the taxpayer at a minimum.”
He said there has been overwhelming community support to at least renew the current levy, but the method the district uses to get there will be up in the air until the school board's meeting on August 20.