School district oks levy

Published 10:03 am Tuesday, December 13, 2016

With little discussion and no questions from the public, the Austin School Board on Monday approved its 2016 payable 2017 levy, totaling $6.6 million, a $131,076 decrease from last year, or 1.9 percent.

Shifts occur in 30 different categories that make up the levy, and a combination of them resulted in the slight levy drop, said Director of Finance and Operations Mark Stotts, including operating capital, state aid formula, long-term facilities maintenance levy and instructional lease levy among them.

The board on Monday also said goodbye to member Mary Jane Kestner, who chose not to run for a second term. Monday’s meeting was her last and fellow members had praise for her.

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Superintendent Dave Krenz said that thanks were extended to people like Kestner, who “take their time, and their professional time, to serve the community and our children. You have a special place in our hearts.”

Kathy Green agreed.

“We appreciate the voice you have brought to the board,” she said.

Board chairwoman Angie Goetz said she appreciated Kestner’s dedication and how Kestner always had her eye on what was best for kids.

Kestner said she thanked her fellow board members for understanding her newness to the board and though she felt she was not knowledgeable about some issues, “I hope I’ve been an example; that you can give four years and give back to the community.”

In other business, Corey Haugen, director of Research Evaluation and Assessment, outlined for the board the issue of ethnicity enrollment, a state form required to be filled out by students each year. In the past, the form was a simple, five-line document that simply asked their ethnic origin.

This year, a change was made to the statute and interpreted by the Minnesota Department of Education in such way as to pose nearly 100 categories of ethnicity. For instance, he said, on a line where a student might simply mark “Hispanic,” the student has 16 different options to choose from, determining if the student is from Mexico, or Argentina, etc.

White students have even more, and could be presented with as many as 49 different categories, Haugen said. There are 18 categories for Asian students; 14 for African Americans and two for those of Hawaiian heritage.

Haugen told the board that he had urged both Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe during a meeting last week to take another look at the statute.

“The interpretation (by the MDE) is flawed,” he said, adding some students might not even know where their ancestors came from.

“What is the purpose?” asked board member Peggy Young.

States are required to gather the information, Haugen said, but such an extensive form would yield no significant data for local educators.

“Are they asking, for instance, how many German students have enrolled in your school?” she said.

No, responded Haugen, “it has to do with the ethnic bloodline.”