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November referendum vote could lower property taxes

Even if voters renew a school board referendum in early November, Austin residents are likely to see property taxes decrease.

The Austin Public Schools Board Monday evening approved a Nov. 5 special election to renew one of the district’s two operating levees, which is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2014. There are no other local ballot items, so only question will read: “Shall the renewal of the expiring property tax referendum proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 492 (Austin) be approved?” Voters may check “yes” or “no.”

Mark Stotts, the district’s finance and operations director, said Austin residents can expect to see a slight drop in their property taxes if the vote passes, effective for the 2014-2015 school year. The referendum will remain in effect for 10 years.

“Even with the renewal of this referendum — where the district will not receive any more money than we’re currently receiving — because of the legislation that was passed last session, property taxes will decrease,” Stotts said.

Board member Kathy Green clarified the referendum will not ask Austinites to give more money to the school.

“We’re asking citizens to continue to support what they voted on 10 years ago,” Green said. “What we’re doing is keeping that in place.”

Numerous complex changes were made during the state’s most recent legislative session, including modifications to the way students of different grade levels are “weighted” when counting the number of students in a district.

Superintendent David Krenz encouraged Austin residents to vote on the referendum.

“Ask questions so you have the right information as you go to the poll,” he said.


District strategies

Krenz outlined the district’s strategic roadmap during the board meeting, which highlights some of Austin Public Schools’ new or changing programs and upcoming goals. Throughout, he suggested the district look for ways to transform learning to better cater to each student as an individual.

“I believe that we need to develop a diverse and quality staff,” Krenz said.

Efforts included continuing the Step Up Achieve program, in which student interns worked at Hormel Foods Corp. for a summer; evaluating and possibly expanding the year-round schedule now used at Sumner Elementary School and some Woodson Kindergarten Center classes; and I.J. Holton Intermediate School’s curriculum partnership with the University of Minnesota.

Board Member Richard Lees said standardized testing clashed with the idea of personalized learning.

“Doesn’t this go against our critical thinking, our imagination?” Lees said.

Krenz said standardized tests only serve as a gauge to help measure whether the more creative efforts are effective, and should never become the goal of teaching.

“We ask you to create these classrooms that are innovative,” he said. “That’s a chore we need to take on.”

John Alberts, educational services director, said he has not seen the level of creativity diminished by testing.

During the outline, Krenz also showed a brief informational video meant to tell parents more about the district’s schools that he said will ultimately appear on the district’s website, www.austin.k12.mn.us.


Look to Tuesday’s print edition of the Austin Daily Herald for more on the Austin Public Schools Board.