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Esko School Board approves 1.7% increase in tax levy

With some increased debt payments coming in the next fiscal year, the district adopted a slightly higher tax levy, increasing by 1.7%. The school board also approved a partnership with Proctor for a boys swimming team,

Esko Public Schools
Esko Public Schools in Esko, Minnesota. (2019 file / Cloquet Pine Journal)
2019 file / Cloquet Pine Journal

The Esko School Board adopted its 2022 tax levy, which is 1.7% higher than the previous year, at its board meeting Monday, Dec. 13.

Superintendent Aaron Fischer said it is always good for the district when the levy only increases by a small amount.

“Anytime it’s less than 5% it is an awesome year,” he said. “The board and I are trying to be fiscally conservative given the situation we have, so we are very pleased our rate increase was as low as it was.”

During the board's truth in taxation meeting, which was held right before the regular meeting, the reasoning behind the levy increase was changes to debt payments the district had to make.

Fischer explained it is because of calculations on the debt and the levy was not increased because of anything the district had done.

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“Our debt this year is going up 1.7%, so our total tax increases are 1.7%, which is pretty good,” he said.
The levy is projected to make up 14% of the district's budget for next year, and will bring in $2.13 million.

Fischer said the district is anticipating a deficit in its budget for next year of $120,000, however the numbers are still preliminary.

“It has got a small projected deficit, which could be true, there are a lot of unknowns right now especially with the COVID funding,” he said.

Board Chairperson Jerry Frederick said the district is doing well considering it is one of the lowest funded districts in the area.

“I think we are in a good spot as far as the budget goes,” he said. “Our basic philosophy for this school is to keep what we have up-to-date.”

Other business

The board also unanimously approved a sports partnership with Proctor for a boys swimming team.

Board member Jeff Salo wanted to know before the board voted if the district would have extra expenses for joining the partnership.

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Fischer said the district would only have to pay the student participation fee.

“It is a pretty good financial deal,” Fischer said.

Board members were also curious about previous partnerships with Cloquet for a boys swimming team, but Fischer said Cloquet currently only has a girls swimming team, which the district partners with.

The board also discussed increasing the pay for substitute teachers from $120 per day to $150.

As the district finds itself with a shortage of substitute teachers, increasing the pay would not only be used to attract new substitutes, but help to retain some as well.

Fischer said most neighboring districts to Esko are already at $150 a day or are in talks of increasing their rates to $150. The district has already lost one substitute since the start of the year, and the financials were an aspect to the departure.

“There’s more than one factor in these … but yes money was brought up as probably the main reason,” he said.

While the board acknowledged the issue, they tabled it until they had some more information on options they could use to attract more substitutes.

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Board member Leona Johnson said raising the rate it at the meeting without additional information was not something the board should do.

“I have a hard time just throwing money as a possible solution, it’s like a stab in the dark,” she said.

The board came to a consensus on receiving more information from teachers and the teacher’s union on what else the district can do to try and attract and retain substitute teachers, before making a final decision on increasing the pay.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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