Public willing to vote for referendum

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, September 11, 2010

If a rainy football game is any indication of how the upcoming referendum vote will go, it appears Austin Public Schools will renew two levies up for debate on Nov. 2.

More people at the Wescott Athletic Complex Friday were willing to vote in favor of rather than against renewing the two levies, which provide $304.53 per student combined and are among three levies the district currently uses. Overall, the three levies equate to $719 of funding per student, or roughly $3.5 million.

The levies, if passed, would provide funds, based on student enrollment, for the next 10 years.

Enrique Camarena, a success coach for Sumner Elementary, holds up a "Vote Yes," sign before the Austin, Rochester John Marshall football game Friday night at Wescott Athletic Complex. - Eric Johnson/

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While no new school taxes will be raised if the levies are passed, taxes would decrease if the levy was voted down.

“I have four children in the school district,” Austin resident Bobbi Jo Richard said. “I think we need the extra funding to help promote education and everything that goes with education.”

Many echoed Richard’s sentiment.

Although a majority of people claimed they supported the referendum, a sizeable amount of people didn’t know enough about the issue to have a preference one way or another. One couple that didn’t want their names published said they hadn’t heard enough about the issue, and another man who also didn’t want his name published said he didn’t know there was a referendum up for vote.

That’s why the Vote Yes Committee, a group of local educators and community members working towards informing the public about the referendum renewal, kicked off their informational campaign before the Austin-John Marshall football game Friday by passing out fliers and answering questions.

Unfortunately, the rainy weather and a slow turnout before kick off dashed the committee’s efforts as most volunteers stopped by 6 p.m.

Such setbacks won’t dissuade the committee for long, however. Austin High School Principal Bradley Bergstrom said the group will continue to provide information about the referendum to as many people as possible. Bergstrom said that in his experience, once people know about a referendum, they usually want to vote for it.

“When the public understands the questions, ‘What is the money used for?’ and ‘How will the money be used?’, they usually are in favor of a referendum,” he said.

The group has their work cut out for them, however. 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.

While last year’s referendum failed by only 116 votes, it was held a year earlier than when the district’s levies would start to expire. Now that one levy will expire this year, with the other expiring next year, the referendum would have to pass in order to avoid budget deficits.

According to Mark Stotts, the district’s finance and operations director, if the levy was voted down, the district would end up having a $1 to 1.5 million projected budget deficit for the next school year and beyond, which won’t be replaced by federal aid.

It seems a large portion of the community doesn’t want that to happen.

“All it’s gonna do is continue to give money to education that’s already there,” Wayne Golberg, an Austin resident said.