Residents question school district taxes

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Two community members questioned Cloquet School Board members and administration Monday about the “voter-approved levy” portion of recent tax estimates mailed out to county property owners.

James Mallery said the voter-approved levy portion of his taxes went from $300 last year to $729 this year.

Richard Colsen had a similar complaint, noting that when he used the district’s tax impact calculator during last year’s referendum process, it told him to expect an increase of about $56. Instead it was $134.

“I looked at 19 different statements in my neighborhood (Colsen lives near the current middle school) and all of them showed between a 138 percent to 160 percent increase,” he said. “When I asked the county about the numbers, they said the school district submitted the paperwork.”

Superintendent Ken Scarbrough noted that the “voter approved levy” portion includes more than the money passed in last year’s referendum for a new middle school, but said he didn’t want to go into detail without input from the district’s new business manager Candace Nelis, who was absent from Monday’s meeting to care for a sick child, he said.

Scarbrough said he will have answers to the tax questions at the school district’s Truth in Taxation hearing, set for Dec. 14.

In other matters Monday, board members heard that Cloquet High School will be the site of a pilot project for high school students to get a Minnesota Childcare Credential. The school is working with the Minnesota Department of Human Services on a plan that would include online classes and hands-on experience at the Lil’ Lumberjacks site.

“This would make students job-ready to be an assistant teacher at a licensed daycare center,” said CHS Principal Warren Peterson.

Board members also passed a resolution supporting Native American Heritage Month and Day, noting the positive impact Native American culture has had on the community and the school district. Indian Ed Director Brenda Jo Peterson noted that the “Why Treaties Matter” exhibit is coming to CHS in January and February; she is hoping to get the mayor of Cloquet and the new Fond du Lac chairperson to help open the exhibit.

In a work session discussion about plans for the new middle school, board member Dave Battaglia wanted to know why the building process is behind schedule.

“We had final plans in July and we didn’t see or hear from anyone until October,” he said. “Did the architects do nothing for three months?”

Scarbrough didn’t have an explanation, but noted that “the heat is up now” and [the architects] are producing. We did our work with the [requests for proposals for the old middle school] and the design team.”

He added there are concerns that the state’s approval process for new school buildings has been slow.