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Austin Public Schools to ask voters for more operating revenue

With more than 12,000 votes cast during the last referendum in 2020, that bond request failed to pass by a margin of 180.

Austin High School
Austin High School.
Post Bulletin file photo
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AUSTIN — Austin Public Schools is getting ready to ask voters for a few extra pennies to keep the district running.

The school district will ask voters on Nov. 8, 2022, to approve an increase in its operating levy, which generates funding from taxpayers on a per-pupil basis. APS already has an operating levy of $42.70 per student. If approved, the levy would increase by $470 per student, generating an additional $2.4 million a year.

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APS Superintendent Joey Page said the district conducted a tax-tolerance survey in the spring to gauge the community's receptiveness to the request.

"We really thought it was important to listen to our stakeholders and not get outside of what the data was showing us," Page said.

School districts in Minnesota get funding from a variety of sources, including local property taxes, and state and federal funding. Many school districts, including Austin, have asked voters to approve operating levies on top of what they get from property taxes.


That's because state funding hasn't kept up with inflation, leaving districts to rely more on local residents. According to the organization Schools for Equity in Education, there is a gap of $1,605 per student between the actual funding schools get from the state and what they would get if the formula had kept up with inflation.

In spite of how much the increase would be in comparison to the existing levy, Austin would still be on the lower end when compared to other school districts of roughly the same size. If voters approve the new levy, its per-pupil amount would still be lower than Rochester's $879, Winona's $1,228, and Red Wing's $1,980.

According to the APS district website, the levy increase would represent an additional $12 of taxes a month for a home valued at $170,000.

If voters do not approve the increase to the operating levy, the district will be faced with a budget deficit of $3 million.

APS held a referendum in 2020 to increase its per-pupil levy by $505. With more than 12,000 votes cast, the increase was denied by a margin of 180. The percentage breakdown was 50.74% against the increase, and 49.26% in favor of the increase.

According to Ryan Mayers, APS communications coordinator, the district was able to avoid making cuts after the last referendum because of the COVID relief funding the district received. That will not be the case moving forward.

"If we don't pass the referendum, we are looking at those cuts," Mayers said. "We are looking at increased class sizes and possible loss of programming and things like that."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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