Duluth’s school levy referendum

I wish the DNT had included its little graphic that went with the newsprint version of this story today on one-third of Minnesota School Districts going for levy referendum increases.

The law that permits levy referendums has changed over time since the Duluth School District first offered such a levy in 1993. When Duluth first offered a levy the District raised (If I remember correctly) something like 1 million a year over 5 years with voter approval. The State then gave matching money each year to Duluth of 3 million a year. The Duluth School Board did not actually have to levy the taxes that voters approved. This, however, did not cancel out the matching $3 million from the state. By OKaying $1 million in local spending – that was never levied – Duluth’s schools still got $3 million extra from the State. Pretty Sweet.

In the table, that I can’t show you, 8 neighboring school district’s levy referendum basics are compared. Mesabi East is asking local property taxpayers to pony up an additional $700 per student. That’s the biggest. Three Districts, Hermantown, Proctor and Virginia are asking for $0 dollar (not a typo ) levy renewals which will result in remarkably different levels of per pupil spending increases. Hermantown and Proctor will get $1 per pupil spending increases if their levies pass. Virginia will get $800 per pupil if their $0 tax levy increase goes into effect. Don’t look at me for an answer to this. I’d love the Trib to do a follow-up explaining how this can be so. Couldn’t just be a typo could it?

The information on the graphic that surprised me, but shouldn’t have, was that all three levels being offered to Duluth voters will increase taxes by some level raising either $98 or $122 or $246 per pupil for Duluth Students from local property taxpayers. The highest level, if approved will generate even more money per student. It won’t just increase per pupil spending by $246 per pupil. As in the 1993 levy I described the state must be obligated to match local spending which would push the per pupil money from the locally generated $246 up to $404 to $650 per pupil. Why there is a range of spending per pupil is lost on me but then Minnesota State school financing has always been described as the most complicated tax law in the world. In either case passing the highest level of levying would be a very good financial gain for our schools. Its a pity that Dr. Dixon left such a legacy of deceit and mistrust behind him that we will be lucky to pass any levy this year.

Oh, and that wasn’t what surprised me about the graphic. I was surprised that every level of the levy authorizations would lead to a tax increase. I was thinking that the first, and lowest, level of proposed increase would be a simple renewal of the existing local levy which would lead to no increase at all. Silly me. We did that two years ago and that levy is still in effect. I’m not sure how long it continues on, perhaps three years. So, any level of increase this year granted by Duluth taxpayers will mean an increase in local spending.

I resent what appears to me to be the DNT’s attempt to jolly Duluth into being happy about our new schools in order to get some level of increase passed this November. That crappy headline suggesting our students are coming back is just the latest sample of their sweet talk. I got enough sweet talk and lies from Dr. Dixon to last a lifetime. I don’t want my local paper to engage in it too. Its bad enough that the Trib swallowed his bullshit over and over again for six years. Very tasty!

Here’s my simple calculus. We’ve got wonderful (I hope and pray) new schools that were far more costly than we needed for a first class education. We’ve got an escalating problem of too few teachers and too many kids and too many school building bonds to be paid off. If voters don’t pony up even more just because they’ve been lied to for years, our schools will hobble along at far less than cruising speed. I will vote for the highest level of school spending. It will force the state to match some of our local taxes. I’d prefer it if we could somehow put the lion’s share of this taxing on the richest Duluthians but the law won’t allow that.

If I was an editor at the Trib who really wanted that level of spending to pass I’d fess up and tell its readers: “You’ve been right about the Red Plan all along. We’ve been handing out uncritical nonsense about our schools from a pathological liar to keep you voters sedated about being cheated to build these new schools. We’re sorry. That doesn’t change the fact that our classrooms need more money. You could punish us, the Chamber of Commerce, the public employee unions and myopic parents for our negligence but in doing so you will also be punishing our children and the future of Duluth. No one could blame you if you did do that but please don’t. We supporters of the Red Plan don’t deserve your forgiveness but punishing us, however gratifying, will punish you as well if you truly believe our community’s schools need more than brick and mortar. You were right about this all along.

Publishing a confession like this would be a classic case of eating crow. Only saints eat crow. To bad the Trib’s editors aren’t saints.

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