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FAQs

Have questions for Art? Send them in via email or phone. Questions and answers may be posted here.

Q1: Do you support a local excess levy (operating) referendum?

A1:    For several months, I have introduced motions at the board meetings to continue the operating levy at the current amount, and which would not increase taxes.  The Minnesota Legislature complicated matters this year.  At the last minute, Sen. Bakk inserted a $300 "no-vote levy" which took away the vote from citizens.  This obviously caused a lot of confusion with voters. This is now called the Bakk Levy.  The legislature further complicated matters by imposing another "no-vote levy" called the Location Equity Levy.  Adding additional confusion, students are now counted differently.  These legislative changes have made it almost impossible to have transparency on what a referendum really means, or what it will actually cost local taxpayers, or how much money it will actually generate.

Fortunately, last Tuesday, the school board did not impose the Bakk Levy. But the school board did approve (by default) the "no-vote" $212 per student Location Equity Levy. Accepting this "no-vote levy" is a continuation of the district moving forward on decision-making without giving the people a vote. This was a mistake. I voted against this as it will likely hinder the chances of a referendum from passing in November.

I support leaving the excess levy at the current amount.  I tried (unsuccessfully) to get the board not to have another gimmick election by having a two tier referendum. All this confusion will only decrease the likelihood of any referendum passing.  Citizens remember that two years ago a similar three tier levy  referendum lost with a landslide.

In the past I have opposed increasing the amount of a local referendum.  Why? 

  • The Minnesota Constitution and the current legislature are discouraging local referendums;
  • Local excess operating levees are a minor part of our funding;
  • Next year we are expecting to receive about $4.5 million additionally from the state due to formula increases;
  • Local referendum money can’t be dedicated to the classroom and much of it is diverted to paying for past building debts;
  • Past and current levy promotion groups are using misinformation;
  • Most local citizens (including union members) are opposed to raising taxes without any accountability;
  • The Duluth school local total tax levy is among the highest in the state in both absolute and per-student dollars.

Update:  The school board was promised by Superintendent Gronseth that any excess levy would not result in a tax increases this year. When the school board approved sending these excess levy referendums to the voters on August 20, we (the board) were told that this would result in no increase in local property taxes (due to other matching funds from the State and a new way to count students).  At that meeting I strong expressed my support for the first referendum question as that would not raise taxes.   But at the next meeting, the board was told that the administration had decided to raise other property taxes and that this will result in a 6% local school property tax increase if the first question is approved and a 12% increase if both questions pass.  I feel this switching stories was very dishonest and a continuation of the past practices that have got us into this mess and a continuation of lying to the citizens. I was never told anything about this until I got to that meeting (the business committee meeting).  Due to this lack of honesty, I can't support that tax increase, nor the way it was done.  Though this is not a part of my campaign, if people ask me my opinion, I will be voting No and No on the additional levy.

Of course there are other issues which I was going to ignore, but now I have to point out the many other problems  with the excess levy and the less than forthright way it's being promoted.  See the attached info sheet:  Levy Info Sheet

 

Q2: How much money is being transferred from the classrooms to pay for past building debts? I thought this was illegal.

A2:    The long range facilities plan (LRFP) was financed with eight bonds or COPs.  Three of them (2009B, 2010D and 2012B) must be directly paid out of the general fund (the classrooms). A fourth, 2009A, has been optionally paid by the board out of the general fund.  Here's how much has actually been transferred:

Fund Transfers from the General Fund
FY 2010 $2.3 million
FY 2011 $5.6 million
FY 2012 $7.8 million
FY 2013 $5.9 million
FY 2014 (current) $7.9 million (est.)
Total (up to now) $29.5 million

 This is only the beginning of the planned transfers.  The financial plan calls for $163 million being transferred from the general fund (the classrooms) before the final payment is made in 2033.   There are many people that believe that this is illegal, but for some reason, the District actually bought into this scheme of paying for the LRFP out of the classrooms!!!.  The District's lawyers found a loophole in the way COPs can be hidden from public scrutiny.  Despite this legal loophole, this pulling from the general fund is likely in violation of Minn. Statue 123B.79 PERMANENT FUND TRANSFERS.  According to the Minn. Department of Education (MDE), this questionable funding scheme is  unique to Duluth in that we are the only Minnesota school paying for bricks and mortar with funds that are supposed to go to the classroom.   Of course one should ask: "Why did MDE allow such a funding mechanism?"  Good question which no one is answering.

This transfer of money (not the lack of local levy or state funding) is the main cause of the elimination of many teacher positions, unacceptable large class sizes, elimination of curriculum, and why the District is in dire financial straits. 

The final four LRFP's COPs (2008A, 2008B, 2010C, 2012A) are being paid from local, non-voter approved property taxes.  This is why Duluth school property taxes are among the highest in the state.

Q3: Do you support selling the Central High School site to a charter school?

A3:    The Central High School was one of our newest buildings and is an excellent facility. But the Red Plan centralized all the schools and closed many other schools in a bigger-is-better philosophy, and Central High School was closed as part of that. The site also includes the two Secondary Technical Campuses (built only 15 years ago).

For three years the District has been trying to sell the 79 acre Central High School site but there has been very little interest. It was assessed at $13 million in 2006 before the real estate bubble in Duluth burst, and there have been no offers at any price.

The Duluth public schools have no use for this site, and it is costing about $150,000 a year to maintain. This is a waste of money and a waste of prime real estate in Duluth that should be on the tax rolls.

Edison Charters schools have two k-8 facilities in Duluth and they are planning on opening a high school. They have expressed an interest in buying the Central High School site, and I am in favor of selling to them.

These buildings were built with tax payer money to benefit the school children in Duluth.  If the Edison Charter schools can use this facility, their offer should be considered.

Many parents in western Duluth send their children to the charter schools.  I have never heard any parents complain about the Edison Charters schools.  They are a well functioning part of our community, and their offer to purchase the Central High School site should be given full consideration.

 



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