Friday, May 24, 2024

Duluth Public Schools technology referendum fails

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DULUTH — 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.”

Voters were asked to support a capital projects levy to provide $5.2 million annually for 10 years to support technology, security, digital curriculum and career and technical education.

This was the second time in less than a year

that the district has turned to the voters for this funding as a similar technology referendum for $5.3 million failed to pass last fall by just 289 votes. Another similar referendum question about funding technology failed by 1,400 votes in 2018.

The school board

voted in January to pursue the special election referendum

and the district ran an awareness campaign over the last few months that included public forums at every elementary, middle and high school.

“The reality is that these investments are still needed if we are to give our teachers the tools they need to fully prepare students for success,” said Jill Lofald, school board chair. “We’re going to look closely at every option to improve these opportunities for kids.”

Voters respond to referendum request

Responses from voters at the polls on Tuesday seemed to be in favor of the referendum. The News Tribune talked with voters at precincts 1 (St. Michael’s Church), 16 (First United Methodist Church) and 29 (Our Savior’s Evangelical Lutheran).

Many cited the need for more funds to keep up with technology education costs, such as Jenna Trenberth.

“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.

A few school district staff said their personal experiences with the district inspired them to get to the polls Tuesday. Marcy Dammann works as a teacher and technology coordinator at Duluth Public Schools and said the staff needed more training.

“We received a load of new smartboards. But they don’t do a lot of good if the staff don’t know how to use them effectively,” Dammann said. “When I asked why we couldn’t train people, the answer was that we didn’t have the money for it. Kids deserve this, teachers deserve this. We’re doing a disservice to our students if we don’t prepare them for this new world.”

Sophie Williams, a preschool teacher with the district, said the schools “need this to provide an education that’s competitive” but was concerned about the date of the election dissuading voters.

“It’s a weird day for an election,” Williams said.

Referendum election date issues and district funding concerns

Roberta Collins agreed with Williams and said that she knew the election was happening in May, but would have forgotten to vote if she hadn’t heard it on the news this morning.

“It’s not a big date for people like the November election is. We’re used to that, we’re not used to a Tuesday in May,” Collins said.

Criticism of the date selected for the referendum vote was echoed by others at the polls, but many declined to comment on the record.

Duluth had company statewide, however, as five other districts held referendum votes during Tuesday’s special election: Ellsworth, Fergus Falls, Pine City, Norman County East and Martin County West.

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.

Teri Cadeau is a K-12 and higher education reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area, including the Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle, and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she’s an avid reader and crafter.

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