YVONNE PRETTNER SOLONState Senator, District
G-9 State Capitol Building
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155-1606
Phone: (651) 296-4188
Fax: (651) 225-7594
State of Minnesota
COMMITTEES: Chair, Energy, Utilities, Technology &
Communications • Health & Human Services Budget Division Health,
Housing & Family Security • Commerce and Consumer Protections •
May 2, 2008
To: Senate members
Re: Duluth School District Long Range Facilities Plan
It has come to my attention that many of you have been
contacted by Duluth residents about a local school
district issue. This is a complicated and controversial issue that has
sparked strong emotions.
The Duluth School District plans a large-scale
construction project that will allow some schools to close,
re-construction and maintenance on other buildings and new construction
where necessary. 1. The
plans have been discussed at
numerous public meetings, at least 125 of them, over the course of the
past two years and with Department
of Education officials, who have signed off on all construction plans.
Over the course of this discussion, questions have been
raised concerning the “exclusive” use of alternative
facilities revenue authority and lease purchase authority that the
Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth
school districts have available to them. 2.
Duluth has not “misused” either provision; in fact all school
districts have been granted such authority to use alternative facility
authority in recent years if needed
for health and safety capital projects that meet the MDE threshold for
review and comment.
problem is that Duluth has not “used” this authority to the degree
necessary in the more than twenty
years it has been available because the community and school board have
not been able to decide
what schools needed to be closed in any comprehensive plan that has been
considered. I have lists of
districts that have this approval for those who are interested. 4.
Duluth’s Red Plan is
legal, despite claims to
the contrary, and 5.
has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by MDE.
Minnesota has a strong tradition of local school control, and at this
point it seems appropriate that the legislature
resist getting closely involved in an intensely local issue. If the
Duluth School Board’s decision
to go ahead is overturned by the legislature (which could happen if the
House tax provision becomes
law), what kind of chilling effect will that have on other school
districts experiencing declining
enrollment who are trying to make fiscally responsible facility
decisions to best meet the needs
of their schoolchildren?
Again, thank you for your interest. If you have further
questions, please let me know.
Yvonne Prettner Solon
1. No matter how many meetings were held
the vast majority of the Duluth public had only a sketchy idea what the Duluth
School District Long Range Facilities Plan entailed. Few
people were clear that it would cost $407 million dollars making it the
largest such school building project in state history. And no one knew
that it would implemented without a referendum.
2. Duluth is
following the letter of a law which was coauthored many years ago by
Duluth Representative Mike Jaros which was intended to permit building
without referendums to help integrate Duluth's schools.
The current plan which is called the "Red Plan" divides
Duluth's schools into a heavily minority half which Rep. Jaros
represents and a low minority half in the Eastern half of the City. This
violates the intent of Mike's legislation.
3. This is a myth. After a botched school bond referendum in
1989 the Duluth School Board began a ten year maintenance plan which
pumped an additional $2 million into school repairs each year. Over the
past 15 years $30 million has gone into upkeep. A few of the buildings
are old but the buildings in question only average 54 years in age which
is far younger than most Duluth homes. In fact, the first two schools to
be worked on in the Red Plan are only 16 years old.
4. See answer #2. Yes, it is legal but
it shouldn't be. Citizens in every other Minnesota school district have
the right to petition to put major bonds on the ballot. Under this law
citizens of Cities-of-the-First-Class lose this right to petition for a
5. In a recent conversation with Rep.
Jaros, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren agreed that the Duluth
building plan was excessive but plead that because of a new
understanding of the letter of the law her Department had no other
choice but to approve it.
6. Minnesota has a strong tradition of
local control. By permitting this novel use of the existing law the
legislature has interfered with the right of Duluth voters to choose the
bonds which will finance their schools. This has had "a chilling
effect" on the residents of Duluth. Ironically, if you look
at Senator Prettner Solon's State Web page you will see that 58%
of the people she surveyed oppose losing the right to vote which
she is now advocating. This result has been duplicated in several other
polls and surveys taken in Duluth. Senator Prettner Solon is not
speaking for her constituents.
Reply written by Harry Welty
Eight year member of the Duluth School Board