Split vote on Lake County schools

First question approved; Fall Lake voters overwhelmingly opposed

by Tom Coombe
Despite heavy opposition in Fall Lake Township, voters in the Lake Superior School District approved one levy referendum on Tuesday while rejecting another.
The first question, which calls for just over $44 million in improvements to school buildings in Two Harbors and Silver Bay, was approved with 61 percent of the vote.
A second referendum question, which would have generated another $7 million in property tax funds to renovate school athletic facilities in both communities, failed on a 55-45 percentage split.
Both questions were met with near unanimous opposition in Fall Lake, which because of a geographic quirk sits in the Lake Superior district although children who reside there go to school in Ely.
Fall Lake voters rejected the first question in an overwhelming 210-8 tally, while the second question had 210 “no” votes, six “yes” votes and two ballots unmarked.
The opposition in Fall Lake provided the bulk of the 291-vote margin of defeat for the second question.
School officials from the Lake Superior District came to Fall Lake last month to drum up support for the referendum and answer questions, but it was to no avail.
For decades, talk of annexation - that would allow Fall Lake to move from the Lake Superior district into the Ely district - has failed to generate agreement or political momentum.
As a result, Fall Lake residents pay taxes in a district that has schools more than an hour away and have no say in Ely district issues or elections.
The township near Ely provides about 14 percent of the tax base in the Lake Superior district, according to earlier estimates.
The first referendum will replace the now expiring Two Harbors High School levy referendum, making it tax-neutral, according to school officials.
The second question would have allowed the district to upgrade athletic facilities, including turf fields.
As part of the first referendum, the Silver Bay campus and a Two Harbors elementary school will receive full renovations as well as additions.
All three schools will receive security updates that will force all visitors to move through a secured area.
The referendum that passed also includes funds and plans to renovate the bus garages in Two Harbors and Silver Bay.