Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

New school levy

ISD 2142 should have heeded example set by the Duluth School Board

Posted 8/28/13

Many taxpayers in the St. Louis County School District don’t know whether they should be angrier with their local school board, or their state senator.

That’s been the general reaction to the …

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New school levy

ISD 2142 should have heeded example set by the Duluth School Board

Posted

Many taxpayers in the St. Louis County School District don’t know whether they should be angrier with their local school board, or their state senator.

That’s been the general reaction to the school board’s decision last week to impose a $300 per pupil unit levy on taxpayers, without a public vote. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk pushed through the authority for school districts this past legislative session, much to the dismay of many taxpayers in his own district. We suspect the senator has already heard from some of them.

Ultimately, of course, it was the school board that exercised its new authority, and it did so with remarkably little discussion or public notice. In fact, the board never even included the levy question on their board agenda, so the public had no way of knowing that the board was considering such quick action. The board, obviously, had no interest in hearing from taxpayers on the question. It was just another example of school administrators in ISD 2142 thumbing their noses at public opinion.

The St. Louis County School Board should have heeded the advice that Duluth’s superintendent, Bill Gronseth, gave his own school board recently.

Gronseth urged Duluth board members to refrain from exploiting their new levy authority, citing the intense controversy and simmering anger over the so-called Red Plan, a giant facilities plan developed by Johnson Controls. He said the district’s taxpayers didn’t need another example that their concerns were unimportant, and recommended seeking the funds through the regular referendum process.

Such anger still exists over JCI’s flawed facilities plan in ISD 2142 as well, but officials here appear either unaware or unconcerned about attitudes in the communities they are supposed to be serving. And school administrators want to add insult to injury to taxpayers with a new lease levy for additional classrooms at the just-renovated Cherry School, further adding to the tax burden for district residents, again without their say-so. Board members would be wise to put the brakes on that project as currently proposed.

The St. Louis County School District certainly faces financial strains, but the district is already scheduled for significant funding increases next year, as this year’s Legislature finally loosened the purse strings on schools after several years of flat funding. Those already-scheduled increases should have left the school district well in the black, at least with responsible financial management.

It would be nice to believe that the new operating funds will be directed towards the classroom, but the district’s track record suggests otherwise. Adding the new levy authority makes it too easy for school districts, like ISD 2142, to maintain inefficient spending patterns. A few on the school board had hoped that the district’s financial squeeze would be the impetus to begin to trim some of the district’s hopelessly bloated administrative costs, which are among the highest of any school district of similar size in the state. Now, with another half million dollars in new levy funds streaming into the budget next year, don’t look for administrative efficiencies any time soon. Look, instead, for more of the same.

And taxpayers have a right to ask why the district needs still more money, when less than four years ago district officials were claiming their JCI-inspired facilities plan would leave them with a million dollar surplus. Instead, the district’s finances went from bad to worse— which was pretty much the exact same result that JCI engineered in Duluth.

For years, school districts had to turn to voters to obtain additional operating dollars, and that gave the public a chance to hold school officials accountable when they failed to deliver on their promises, or wasted dollars on unnecessary overhead. Taking away that taxpayer check is unlikely to improve education. If history is any guide, ISD 2142 will fritter most of it away, leaving taxpayers more frustrated than ever.

Comments

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Kudos to Nancy Wall Glowaski for being the singular vote against this levy. And shame on that wimpy milk toast Todd Swanson for not standing up for his community.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I meant Troy Swanson, the sleepy elf.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Troy Swanson was ill and not at the meeting when the board voted to adopt the levy. He had voiced concerns at a previous meeting about increasing taxes without public input.

Tom Klein, Cook-Orr Timberjay editor

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tom, he still votes with the majority of the board when he is in attendance. Only Wall Glowaski and sometimes Chet Larson vote with the people.

Thursday, August 29, 2013