Cloquet taxes going upOn Monday, the Cloquet School Board approved increasing the proposed school levy by nearly $1 million for a total of $4 million.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
On Monday, the Cloquet School Board approved increasing the proposed school levy by nearly $1 million for a total of $4 million. The increase came largely from $300,000 worth of unexpected asbestos removal in Cloquet schools this summer during construction projects. This is in addition to the approximately $550,000 cost of the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability to pay insurance benefits owed to retired district employees.
Without these two expenses, the levy increase would have been approximately $100,000.
“When you find asbestos and know you’re going to disturb it due to construction, by law you have to remove it,” Cloquet Schools Superintendent Ken Scarbrough explained. “We didn’t know about it until we got into these projects.”
A Truth in Taxation Hearing, giving the public a chance to understand the levy increase, will be held during the regular school board meeting Dec. 14. The board will finalize the levy amount in December.
The board was also informed Monday of an unexpected drop in student enrollment after the school year started – an estimated 26 students at one elementary school. Scarbrough said he would not report officially on how many students left the district because he hadn’t had a chance to confirm the data. Board member Jim Crowley voiced concern over those hired to specifically accommodate what at the time was an influx of students.
“We hired staff based on those high numbers,” said Crowley. “When we’re hiring people to try to do the right thing and service the students but [wind up sticking] the taxpayers…. that hurts.”
Scarbrough explained that families come and go from the school district for a variety of reasons including employment, and that can’t be anticipated.
Board member Rose Scheuer asked that board members receive enrollment reports before each meeting. Scarbrough said that could be done, adding that “there’s volatility to the numbers.”
In other board action, an additional half-time position for a developmental cognitive disability teacher was added at the middle school to alleviate a heavy case load.
“We seem to add, add, add and we don’t cut, and we don’t have the money,” said Crowley during the board’s working session. “I’m worried about adding in the special education area.”
Middle School Principal Tom Brenner said he made sure to justify the addition before proposing it.
“That’s always an area of concern, special education,” said Brenner. “As the [Minnesota Board of Education] expects us to get more kids to pass in that subgroup, that’s going to be a hard mark to hit.”