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School board looks back, mulls tax request

By Karen Colbenson

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

School board members got a snap-shot-picture look at the 2006-2007 school year and received information about a potential tax abatement project during a special school board meeting Monday night.

John Alberts, director of educational services, presented a report of last year’s curriculum, instruction and student performance. The Minnesota Department of Education requires a copy of the report to be submitted each year.

According to the report, 4,213 students were enrolled in the school district last year. The report included demographic information such as racial/ethnic background and English proficiency rates. Nearly half of all students qualified for the free and reduced lunch program.

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Under the current legislation, students must pass the Minnesota Basic Standards test in reading, math and writing in order to earn a diploma, but beginning with the class of 2010, students will be administered the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma in writing in ninth grade, reading in 10th grade and math in 11th grade. 

The basic standards tests will be phased out and replaced by the GRAD assessment, said Alberts.

As in past years, students also will need 24 credits to graduate, which includes four credits in language arts; three in math; three in science; four in social studies; one in physical education; half a credit in health/nutrition; and seven credits of electives. The classes of 2007 and 2008 also are required to take one credit of art.

Board members also got a first-hand look at the early childhood education classes offered at the Community Learning Center. Amy Baskin, director of the CLC, and some of its teachers went through a typical day of class to show board members how activities relate to aims and goals. 

One of CLC’s goals is to increase the percentage of students who meet or exceed proficiency levels in reading from last year’s 70.3 percent to 80 percent, and in math from last year’s 81.1 percent to 82 percent.

George Brophy, executive director of Development Corp. of Austin, presented a potential tax abatement project. Board members will consider providing an abatement of $4,635 for five years on a development parcel at the Austin Industrial Park, which DCA proposes to develop and lease to H.M. Smyth Cos., a printing company.

The planned building will exceed 30,000 square feet and will cost an estimated $2.2 million. Lori Volz, director of finance and operations for the school district, recommended that the board consider providing the abatement and said the amount would be spread among the remaining tax base and would amount to "pennies per taxpayer."

According to Brophy, benefits of the project would include support for the expansion of a local company, which would result in adding more positions at the company, which could potentially increase enrollment in the school district.

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Board members will vote on the request next month.

 K-12 demographics for 2006-2007

Limited English proficiency        10 percent

Special education               13 percent

Free and reduced lunch           48 percent

American Indian/Alaskan          less than 1 percent

Asian/Pacific Islander              3 percent

Black/non-Hispanic                4 percent

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Hispanic                       17 percent

White/non-Hispanic               76 percent

 

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