Board votes for maximum levy to leverage taxpayer dollarsThe Cloquet School Board voted to authorize a levying authority of $300 per pupil at its Monday night board meeting – triple what the district currently receives from taxpayers for each student in the district but only a potential 14 percent increase in the school district’s property tax levy.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet School Board voted to authorize a levying authority of $300 per pupil at its Monday night board meeting – triple what the district currently receives from taxpayers for each student in the district but only a potential 14 percent increase in the school district’s property tax levy.
The resolution, passed 4-0 by the board with Board Chair Gary Huard and board member Ted Lammi absent, noted that the $300 per pupil figure is the maximum the board could adopt in December when members take their final vote on the levy.
In a memorandum to board members, Superintendent Ken Scarbrough noted that changes to state funding for education in the last Legislative session mean that 51 percent of that $300 per pupil figure, if adopted, would be paid by the state. That would mean a total increase in revenue to the district of approximately $1.175 million and a total levy of $1.451 million.
The remaining 49 percent of the increase, of course, would be passed to local taxpayers. The board could adopt a lower levy if it chooses, but Scarbrough’s memorandum used figures assuming the maximum levy.
“Our current referendum levy is $276,188, so if the board takes full advantage of the new revenue sources, the new levy of $702,447 would amount to an increase in our levy of $526,596,” Scarbrough wrote. “This will amount to about a 14 percent school tax levy increase.”
Currently, the district receives a referendum levy of $97.44 per pupil.
Figures provided to board members estimated the property tax impact for a $100,000 house at the $300 per pupil figure would be $61.41 per year, or $5.12 per month. For a $150,000 house, those figures jump to $92.11 per year or $7.68 per month.
In his memo, however, Scarbrough noted that the final figure could be mitigated by the board.
“If the board wanted to mitigate the tax impact…you could under levy on items like the Safe Schools Levy and the Unemployment Levy since these levies do not produce any state aid,” Scarbrough wrote.
The levying authority passed Monday night lasts for five years beginning with taxes payable in 2014. The board will set the levy amount for the coming year at its Sept. 23 meeting.
“We don’t have many chances to get more money,” board member Jim Crowley said, “and we need it. But some people just don’t have it. If we’re thinking of a referendum (for facilities), that may work against us.”
The board also discussed class sizes for the coming year, with a particular emphasis on a rapidly growing first-grade class.
Churchill School principal David Wangen noted that the district has already gained 39 new students this summer, with 15 of them in first grade. This has resulted in class sizes swelling to as many as 25 in many first-grade sections.
“We’re concerned about the first grade,” Wangen said. “That is a pivotal year for students, with many of them learning to read. We prioritize that.”
After a discussion on the actual numbers used to estimate enrollment, the board voted to authorize administration to add an additional first-grade section should the class sizes be verified to be at their current levels. That would bring the number of students in each first-grade section down to about 22 per class.
Other elementary class sizes range from a low of 21 students in one kindergarten section to 27-28 in fourth-grade sections at Churchill.
In other actions, the board voted to extend its lease with Zion Lutheran Church for the Kids’ Corner program for three years, adding the church’s commons area to leased space.
“This is space the church has graciously allowed us to use,” Cloquet Community Education Director Ruth Reeves said. “We need the space.”
The lease rate is approximately $9 per square foot.