Austin School District discusses upcoming referendum

Published 7:20 am Friday, July 23, 2010

A full 3 percent of Austin Public School’s budget is on the line in the upcoming November 2 referendum.

A meeting was held Thursday night at Austin Public School to discuss the significance of the school district’s efforts to renew two existing levies, which provide the district with a combined total of $304.53 per student.

According to Mark Stotts, the district’s director of finance and operations, Minnesota laws prevent the school boards from expending any school resources on swaying the outcome of a vote. However, the school board can expend resources on informing the public about the facts of the vote.

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The meeting was held to inform the public about the levies. It was also held so that school officials could advise and be made aware of any effort by the public to form a citizen’s committee. Those in attendance voiced support for the idea.

“I believe strongly that we need to support strong schools. It’s a real simple, black and white decision,” said Tom Purcell, who attended the meeting. “I just want to the public to take on ownership of the schools.”

One of the current levies is slated to expire in 2011, followed by the second levy in 2012. If the referendum passes, the levies will both be renewed. The board will ask voters to renew one for 10 years and the other for nine, so their next expiration dates would be the same.

No new property taxes will be added and district funding will remain flat. If the referendum fails, a projected 3 percent of the school’s budget will be lost. According to Stotts, $265, 000 will be lost in 2011 alone.

In November 2009, voters shot down a referendum that would have revoked the two levies and replaced them with one levy that would have provided $531.32 per student each year — and would have meant a $1.09 million revenue increase for the district.

The operating levy on the table now is somewhat of a plan B for the district.

With the failed referendum having occurred only a year ago, the meeting also emphasized potential obstacles to this year’s referendum. One is the fact that the referendum vote will occur during an election year.

“Typically our message will get lost in the general election. Elected seats tend to garner all the attention,” Stotts said.

Another potential problem is the squeeze the economy can put on the public.

“I think the problem could be a money issue and some people will always react negatively to something like this,” said Purcell.

Members of public in attendance decided to hold another meeting at the school on Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m. to further discuss the creation of a citizen’s committee.