Duluth voters snub $52 million school levy for second time in 6 months

This time Duluth school strategists thought they did everything right leading up to the $52 million technology levy dubbed Future Forward presented to voters. Slick website, numerous community listening sessions, the sense that voters wanted another shot at supporting a referendum that failed by a slim margin just months earlier.

The proposed levy requests the same amount and would invest in similar initiatives as the levy proposed during the general election in November 2023.

The capital projects levy in November was rejected by less than 300 votes. Since then, the district’s digital needs and commitment to creating a strong digital infrastructure have not changed. District leaders listened to feedback from teachers, community members, and digital and security experts and determined that improvements to the district’s digital infrastructure remain a critical need.

District officials also went out of their way to reassure the public that the levy would expire in ten years and did not qualify for a one-time renewal by the school board now allowed in the case of operating levies. And should the measure fall short again?

If the referendum fails, our schools will be unable to make updates to classroom technology, software, security, and digital infrastructure that are critical to student learning.

Despite the hype, Duluth voters turned down the new and improved version of the technology levy for the second time in six months. The News Tribune indicated the measure lost by more than the 289 vote margin last November.

Voters turned down a special election referendum question posed by the Duluth school district Tuesday by 453 votes, according to unofficial results reported by the Duluth Public Schools.

Official results will have to wait until Wednesday when they are reported to the Secretary of State, but according to an unofficial count by the city of Duluth, 5,007 voted in favor and 5,460 voted against the ballot question.

“It’s not the outcome we hoped for,” said Superintendent John Magas. “We have some difficult decisions ahead, but our commitment to finding the best solutions for our students is unchanged.”

Some attributed the referendum’s defeat to the May timing of the election. Yet an ever–heavier tax burden was clearly a factor, even for many supporters.

“I voted yes because tech costs keep on getting higher,” Trenberth said. “I understand the hesitation that some people have about higher taxes, but education is one of the most important things that we can invest in.”

Fellow Duluth parent Max Keener shared Trenberth’s concern with increasing taxes.

“But if they’re going to tax us like crazy anyway, at least it’s going to the schools,” Keener said.

The financial impact of the failed levy would have been about $130 annually for the owner of a median priced $315,000 house.

The date wasn’t the primary concern for voter Jerry Lawson. He was more concerned about “fiscal mismanagement.”

“I voted against it. I can no longer tolerate the school board wasting money on things and then turning around to ask us for more,” Lawson said.

In fact, this marks the third time Duluth residents have voted down a technology levy proposed by the school district going back to 2018. Perhaps now Duluth administrators will finally admit it’s three strikes and you’re out.