Voters raise school taxes in St. Paul, Minneapolis, suburban districts

 

St. Paul Public Schools easily won a property tax increase Tuesday that will boost annual per-student funding by $475.

The 10-year levy won the approval of 66 percent of voters.

St. Paul property owners now will pay $1,180 per student each year in special funding for the city’s public schools. The district’s previous levy raised $705 per student.

Eric Cegla, a 44-year-old construction worker with a child entering kindergarten next year, voted for the tax increase.

He said the old levy was significantly lower than what other area school districts are getting. The new levy, Cegla said, “seems more in line with what it should be.”

Anna Sutheim-DuFrain, 32, a private school classroom assistant, also voted for the higher levy.

“Any dollar you spend on a kid is a dollar well spent,” she said after voting at Arlington Hills Community Center.

Diliet Tekie, 21, the son of immigrants, voted for the increase because, he said, U.S. schools aren’t as good as they should be. He attended St. Paul public schools through third grade before enrolling at a private school.

“I feel like the public schools should be as good as the private schools,” he said.

The new revenue, $18.6 million per year plus inflation, isn’t earmarked for specific projects. Rather, it largely will protect existing programs from further cuts while helping to pay for a new district-wide strategic plan, which still is being developed.

The school board has had to close the gap on around $50 million in budget shortfalls over the last three years.

Retired corrections officer Robert Ellis, 69, said he always votes against referendums and this one was no different.

Tuesday’s result will cost the owner of the average St. Paul home — valued at $186,200 — $135 next year. The tax will grow with inflation for 10 years.

MINNEAPOLIS

Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly approved two ballot questions Tuesday that will raise $30 million for that school district’s operations.

The first, with 78 percent voting yes, raises the per-pupil amount by $490 a year.

The second, with 72 percent approval, establishes a new levy to pay for existing technology, freeing up funds for other purposes.

FOREST LAKE

A Forest Lake Area Schools referendum that aimed to raise revenue by $825 per student passed with 53 percent support.

School board members have said the increased funding would help them reduce class sizes and spend more on teacher training and pay.

A failed referendum could have required closing or reconfiguring a school, officials have said.

The levy will cost the owner of a $250,000 home another $282 per year.

Voters last year rejected a $750 levy increase with just 43 percent in favor.

MAHTOMEDI

Meanwhile, 55 percent of voters in the Mahtomedi school district agreed to raise their per-pupil levy Tuesday.

That ballot question replaced a $744 per-pupil levy with one that will start at $1,020 next year. The levy will grow to $1,295 per student in 2022 and then $1,570 from 2025 through 2028.

Officials have said the new money will reduce class sizes while boosting security and academic programs.

In the first year, the new levy will cost the owner of a $350,000 home about $159.

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