New school referendum questions to be answered Nov. 2

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, October 29, 2011

Austin residents will get a chance to hear about the proposed $28.9 million referendum from Austin Public School officials before the Nov. 8 election.

District officials are holding an informational meeting on the referendum at 7 p.m. Wednesday. 2 in Austin High School’s Christgau Hall.

The referendum would fund a new fifth and sixth-grade school and a Woodson Kindergarten Center expansion.

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“This is for people who haven’t had access to school officials or referendum information,” said Austin High School senior Matt Lunning, who helped organize the meeting.

At issue is the tax increase for property owners, though district officials say the increase won’t be quite so severe. The 1991 $20 million bond referendum to renovate Austin High School will be paid off this year, which would offset most of the referendum costs if passed.

A $100,000 home’s property tax would increase by about $50 per year (or $1,000 total) if voters approved a 20-year, $28.9 million capital bond this November. A $150,000 home’s property taxes would go up by about $74.

By the same token, if the referendum fails, a $100,000 home’s property tax would go down by $76 and by $114 on a $150,000 home.

District officials learned in 2009 that Austin’s student population was growing at a rapid pace in a time when most greater Minnesota school districts were shrinking. According to a demographics study, Austin schools would have 300 to 400 more students by 2014 and almost 1,000 more students by 2020. District officials say the student population is increasing at a higher rate than what they originally projected.

Space is tight as almost every school in the district is either at or over capacity this year. Austin High School still has room, with about 1,300 students in a building that can fit a little more than 1,500, and Sumner Elementary School’s enrollment dropped to 289 from about 330 students last year.

Woodson Kindergarten Center grew from about 356 students at this time last year to about 392 students this year, with every available space used as a classroom. Banfield and Southgate Elementary Schools are the schools giving district officials the most enrollment headaches, as Southgate’s enrollment is about 537, up from 527 last year, and Banfield is at 586 students this year. Ellis Middle School’s population is straining as well, with about 1,000 students.