Austin one of 133 districts seeking levy money

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Austin Public Schools isn’t the only district asking for money this year.

More than a third of school districts in Minnesota are planning to ask their voters for additional money in November, the highest number since at least 2001, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Association spokesman Greg Abbott said on Monday that 133 districts have said they will have levy elections in conjunction with city or county elections. They had a Friday deadline to announce their plans.

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Austin Public Schools put forth its levy earlier this year after board members approved a resolution calling for $28.9 million in bond levies to build a new grades fifth-sixth school and expand Woodson Kindergarten Center.

District officials say the $20 million levy for Austin High School’s renovation, which expires this year, offsets a majority of the levy costs in the upcoming referendum, which means even less of an impact on taxpayers.

However, the number of school levies could still increase. Abbott said there’s a Sept. 16 deadline for districts planning solo elections.

The number of districts with levy elections will be the highest in at least 10 years. There were 101 levy elections in 2007 and 188 such elections in 2001, Abbott said.

The Minnesota Department of Education has reported that as state per-pupil funding has failed to keep up with inflation since 2003, schools have become more reliant on local taxpayers.

Austin residents passed a levy last year to keep two levies worth $1.5 million going until 2020. Of the about $1.5 million in question, only about $700,000 comes from the tax base in Austin. The state provides $800,000 in Austin in equalization aid.

Charlene Briner, a department spokeswoman, said the high number of levy requests could also be tied to state leaders’ decision earlier this summer to help fill a $5 billion budget hole by delaying payment of about $2 billion in education money.

“I think that’s reflective of the difficult financial situation districts find themselves in,” she said of the levies.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report