The Duluth School Board has
been given the go-ahead by the Minnesota Dept of Ed. to levy to build the
biggest school building project in state history ($293 million - $407 million
including interest) and to do so under new found statutory authority so that
it can proceed without offering the bonding for a public referendum. This has
caused a year-long controversy and several legal challenges have been
considered relative to integration laws (The new District will drop its
current integration plan while dividing the District into two halves with
dissimilar racial makeups)
There is also a possible
violation of environmental rules, and possibly issues concerning undue
influence given to the projectís construction manager, Johnson Controls Inc.
These issues while serious may not be of interest to the ACLU. However, there
is one serious civil rights concern. We believe that proceeding without an
election is a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment
regarding voting rights.
While recent changes (over
the past 20 years) have given all Minnesota state school boardís the
authority to levy for certain kinds of building projects without resort to a
referendum the School Boards of three cities are given extra authority to
bypass voters. This is unequal treatment. The three school districts in
ís three "Cities of the First Class." They are
About 15 years ago two of the
, were given special statutory authority to levy without referendums after
state legislators in the metropolitan area grew fearful that voters might not
vote for school building projects.
was not given special treatment in this way.
However, the Duluth School
Boardís lawyers made use of three separate state statutes to find a similar
's School Board and the Minnesota Dept. of Education conceded this new
understanding of the law. We assume that this new found levying authority
as well as
The special statute written
, as amended, gives it the right to levy $15 million dollars annually for
school building projects.
has four times as many students as
. This new found authority greatly expands this taxing authority for all the
cities of the first class.
's School Board has begun levying taxes for its building plan that will
average $20 million annually. This is a much greater per student taxing
authority than either
or St. Paul Boards have enjoyed up until now. If
can levy four times as much per student than
was permitted to levy; then under the new application of the law
should be able to levy about $60 million annually without going to the voters.
This potential levy authority strikes us as so excessive as to be clearly
beyond the legislative intent of the original laws drawn up for
. The laws that apply to
ís school district now apply to all three City
of the First Class vastly increasing their taxing authority.
The reaction in
has been predictable. It is estimated that between 60% and 75% of the
population is outraged. This has not stopped the School Board despite
countless appeals to compromise or scale back the building program. There is
no school board election until next year so there is no electoral remedy
available to voters to stop the building project. This can only be
accomplished through a legal challenge.
The use of these laws (one of
which ironically was put in place to help fund districts which were
implementing integration programs) makes a clear distinction between voters in
Cities of the First class and all
voters. Rural and suburban voters retain their right to vote on excessive or
poorly thought out building plans while voters in the Cities
of the First Class have lost this right.
There is at least one other
ancillary issue. There are several townships that are part of the
but not part of the City of
. Their voters have been denied a vote on
ís School referenda under these same statutes even though they are only
meant to apply to Cities of the First