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Austin voters bump per-pupil levy for school district from $42 to $512

The vote will result in roughly $2.4 million of extra spending a year for the district.

Austin High School
Post Bulletin file photo
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AUSTIN — Although Austin Public Schools is getting a bump in funding thanks to local voters, it's still going to have to make a few trims to even out its budget moving forward.

Voters green-lit an increase in local taxes for the city's public school system. With more than 8,300 votes cast during the Nov. 8 election, the increase was approved with 54.1% of the vote. It will result in roughly $2.4 million extra for the district per year.

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"We're just very thankful to the community of Austin for putting its trust in us and supporting us in educating their kids," Andrew Adams, APS director of finance and operations, said.

The funding will be used to keep the district's current operations afloat rather than to support something new.

Public schools receive funding from a variety of sources. Many districts say that since state funding hasn't kept up with the rate of inflation, they've had to rely more on local taxpayers.

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School districts have the authority to collect property taxes. They also have the authority to ask voters to approve additional taxes on top of that base. That additional layer is what APS was asking voters to increase.

"What we're asking for doesn't even compare to what the state has failed to provide," Adams said.

APS already has an existing operating levy in place, amounting to $42.7 per pupil. With the new funding voters approved Nov. 8, that per-pupil funding will increase to $512.70.

Even with that dramatic increase, the amount local taxpayers pay for the district's operating levy is still on the low end compared with other districts. Rochester Public Schools has a voter-approved levy of $878 per student. Others include Makato at $539; Winona at $1,227, and Red Wing at $1,650, according to APS.

Austin tried to pass a similar referendum in 2020 . Voters rejected that proposal by a margin of just 1.48%. Although voters didn't approve that request, the school district was able to compensate financially with the COVID relief funding it received.

If voters had not approved the increase in the levy this November, APS would have a $3 million deficit. Even with the help of the increased levy amount, the district's additional $2.4 million will be short of fully compensating for its needs.

Adams said the district has started talking about possible ways to meet that gap.

"Obviously, we're going to focus on everything we can do to keep that away from the classroom," Adams said about cuts to the budget.

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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